Lasciate ogne speranza, voi chi’intrate. How did it come to this? At the height of his power in Hollywood in 1999, Adam Sandler founded his own production company — Happy Madison Productions — as a way to continue making the movies he enjoys. Over the years, Sandler has slowly morphed into a pariah on the landscape of his big-budget studio comedies, some of which seem to be thinly veiled excuses for lavish vacations. But do they truly represent the nadir in the career of one of comedy’s once-brightest stars? Are there any hidden or underrated gems? Is there such a thing as too few fart jokes? Will Ben Sears retain any sense of sanity by the end of this? Join him and find out, as we venture to the Happy Valley.

Let’s take a minute to talk about the actresses at the center of these Happy Madison films, shall we? By and large, they deserve better. To be cast in a Happy Madison production is, mostly, to be cast as the protagonist’s love interest. The ideal actress is conventionally attractive, has few screen credits (outside of television), and is not a particularly well-known entity – nor does she typically become one afterwards. So far, chronologically speaking, we’ve seen Arija Bareikis, Patricia Arquette (the main anomaly to date, as she was already an established star), Brittany Daniel, and now Colleen Haskell. Baeikis’s role was poorly written, but at least the screenwriters (Rob Schneider and Harris Goldberg) acknowledged that she existed outside the film. Patricia Arquette looked like she was enjoying herself and added some weird comic energy to her character. Brittany Daniel’s performance was fine, but she was hardly given any screen time. And now it’s Haskell’s turn.

I can’t imagine that Haskell was given the role and – before giving her a chance – her presence was diminished because of her acting abilities. She does fine with the material she’s given, as sparse as it is. Still, it’s curious why she was cast in the first place. She literally only has three acting credits listed on her IMDb page: The Animal, and one episode of That 70’s Show in 2001, followed by one episode of Maybe It’s Me in 2002. That’s it. Haskell was primarily famous at the time for being on the inaugural season of Survivor in 2000, where she finished in sixth place. Maybe her asking price was lower than the competition. Maybe the producers were looking for a fresh new face. Maybe everybody else backed out. 

I’m going to give Haskell the benefit of the doubt and assume she’s a talented, capable actress simply because she seems to have made it all the way through production with her sanity intact. I say that because her character is so thinly written, so tossed-off and haphazardly thrown together, that the role would be a death-knell for any A or B-list talent. She essentially exists to react to Rob Schneider’s grotesque facial contortions and body horror. This is a woman who witnesses Schneider regurgitating and feeding a fledgling vulture and doesn’t immediately call 911, for example. I hope she at least gets paid some nice residuals for letting Schneider lick her face. Perhaps it’s unfair to apply the “Qui-Gon Jinn Test” – in which you attempt to characterize Liam Neeson’s character without using the word Jedi – to anything from a Happy Madison film, but I defy anybody to describe Haskell’s character without using the word ‘animal’.

If you’ve made it this far, you may or may not have noticed that I’ve refrained from discussing the plot of The Animal. That’s because there is none. In what I can only describe as the most one-note film I’ve ever seen, The Animal is a film whose central thesis is “Rob Schneider + flopping around and humping things = comedy”. It may be true around Hollywood that nobody sets out to make a bad movie, but it’s hard to believe that anybody thought they were making something worthwhile when they made The Animal.

Still, it’s not worth your time to be mad at The Animal. The movie is dumb, yes, but it undoubtedly knows this. One saving grace to most of these films so far is that they’re mercifully short – and this one clocks in at only 83 minutes. Would Colleen Haskell have fared any better in any other Happy Madison film? It’s safe to say that a more experienced actress could have seen what was written on the page and demanded something more substantial to be written. I’m not going to speculate and say that because she was a newcomer – both to acting and Hollywood – that she was too timid to ask for a better role. Nor will I assume that being in a movie as terrible as The Animal “broke” her of her aspirations, though I wouldn’t blame her. She’s has a charming enough screen presence that she could have easily found a niche in Hollywood if she truly wanted it. Thankfully, while browsing through other critics’ reviews of The Animal, they seem to have come to the consensus that Haskell is a bright spot even if the rest of the movie stinks. And that, sadly, is some of the highest praise that most Happy Madison actresses can only hope to aspire to at the end of the day.

  • “I’m Getting Paid How Much?!” Inexplicable Cameo Award: Norm MacDonald was consistently one of my favorite cast members from his era on SNL, and I still believe he’s the all-time best host of Weekend Update. So, despite his winking shtick at the end of The Animal, I was genuinely excited to see him, even while I rolled my eyes. His brief scene was legitimately the only time I laughed during this movie.
  • Just Go With It: The Happy Madison Promise. I’m beginning to notice how much the Happy Madison folks like to provide a nice little sendoff for each major and minor character at the end of nearly every film, whether they need one or not, and this is no exception. We learn that the mad scientist hooked up with the bodybuilder woman from the beginning of the film. Goodie.
  • Fart Joke Counter: Just one in this entry, another bathroom scene. In total fairness, you can’t have room for fart jokes when you have to fill so much of the movie with Schneider humping things.
  • The Walkout Test: Fail. Too horny!
  • By my count, there’s at least two recycled bits from earlier Sandler / Happy Madison films, and I have a sneaking suspicion this won’t be the last time: Sandler appears to recite Schneider’s signature line from The Waterboy, and somebody off-screen yells “that’s a huge bitch,” which is repeated from Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. They’re like Marvel Easter eggs for idiots.