I like Rob Schneider, I truly do. He seems like a nice guy. When I see interviews with Rob Schneider, I want to see him succeed. When I see him stand up to his detractors in the press, I think ‘You show them, Rob!’ Unfortunately, liking Rob Schneider and liking Rob Schneider’s movies is not mutually exclusive. We all have a friend who pursues something that they constantly fall short at but their boundless enthusiasm prevents us from telling them that they sort of suck; in showbiz terms, that friend is Rob Schneider. Of course, his career stays afloat based on goodwill from his buddy Adam Sandler (another gregarious sort who I want to like way more than I like his movies) and the DTV market, a scene where Schneider appears not only as a lead but also in supporting parts and… behind the camera.
The Chosen One is Schneider’s second directorial effort after 2007’s prison comedy Big Stan, a predictably juvenile collection of rape jokes with a surprisingly good cast. Schneider’s second effort, however, is not something anyone could have predicted. The Chosen One isn’t exactly a heavy, Oscar-bait drama but it certainly has a weight and gravitas absent from The Animal and the Deuce Bigelow saga. In Sandlerian terms, it’s been compared to Punch Drunk Love; while I certainly wouldn’t go that far, it’s certainly up there with Spanglish.
Schneider stars as Paul, a sad-sack car salesman who hits the bottle after his wife leaves him for her yoga instructor. The film open with Paul performing the ritualistic burning of his ex’s shit; the house catches on fire and Paul resigns himself to burning down with it. His co-worker Freddy (Marcus Giamatti, giant-sized brother of Paul Giamatti) stops him just in time, yet Paul continues to throw shit in the fire as Freddy tries to put it out. Paul’s boss (Peter Reigert) lets him know that he’s skating on thin ice; his stats are much lower in the past three months and he risks losing his job if he doesn’t shape up. Paul’s solution is simple: he steals a car from the dealership, drives to his house and ties a noose around his neck. At the last second, he decides against it and someone rings his doorbell. It’s actually a tribe of Colombian shamans who’ve travelled thousands of kilometers to find Paul, whom they consider The Chosen One.
I honestly never thought I’d see the day where a Rob Schneider vehicle began with Rob Schneider actively pursuing his own death… at least not played entirely straight. The Chosen One has a rather pedestrian setup befitting pretty much every movie where someone is at the end of their rope but it’s just so fucking weird to see Rob Schneider attempt suicide without the use of wacky voices or pratfalls. While the film does eventually stop being simply about Schneider’s interrupted suicide attempts, its humour is so gentle and non-obnoxious that it seems almost impossible this is the same Schneider who so delighted the nation in The Animal.
Paul welcomes the shamans and their guide-lady Marissa (Carolina Gomez) in his home to avoid them getting arrested and learns that he is The Chosen One that will save their tribe from extinction because something something something snow in the mountains. Paul, of course, wants nothing to do with saving the rainforest with these strange old dudes who sit cross-legged in his living room smoking pipes but he’s a desperate man whose life has bottomed out. It’s not like he’s got many options for betterment considering he’s spent the last day trying to off himself. What follows is pretty-by-the-book: Paul is constantly amazed by the weirdo shamans who follow him around everywhere, dump his booze out in the sink while he sleeps and pay for produce in the supermarket with sacred seeds. The shamans crash Schneider’s tense family supper, earning the ire of his gay Buddhist-monk brother (Steve Buscemi, of all people) who believes they’re a bunch of con-artists and not true spiritual men of God like him.
Schneider leans a little too heavily on the Jungle 2 Jungle school of screenwriting, meaning there’s a lot of ‘What’s he doing? Hey, don’t do that! Tell him not to do that!’ when the Colombians are around. What’s probably most stunning about all this is how restrained Schneider is both as actor and director. Although the jokes aren’t necessarily terribly funny, they’re helped immensely by the fact that Schneider doesn’t underline everything with a slide whistle, bugged-out eyes and wacky chase scenes. Could it be that, all this time, it was the Frank Coracis and Dennis Dugans of the world that were fucking Schneider’s shit up?
Considering that Schneider wrote, directed and stars in the lead role, one would assume The Chosen One is an ill-fitting vanity project designed to show the world how great Rob Schneider is. In fact, the film’s great asset (perhaps, in a sense, the only great asset) is the sense of humility Schneider brings to the proceedings. Schneider gives himself no showboating moments, doesn’t fuck around with the camera tricks (his visual style is pretty barren, frankly) and lets the rest of the cast do a lot of the heavy lifting. It’s not much of a stretch to draw a parallel between the bottomed-out Paul at the beginning of the film and Schneider himself; this is a rather surprisingly spiritual effort considering his propensity for cheap ethnic caricatures and peeing on shit. On the other hand, Rob Schneider did write himself a vehicle where he’s the fucking Chosen One. Baby steps.
All surprises aside, The Chosen One is not a particularly successful film. Its dramatic moments are impossibly heavy while its lighter moments wade in Disney Channel tropes. It deals with suicide, depression, alcoholism and environmental issues (!) and in the same breath has the shamans perplexedly look up the chimney to see where the people in the TV live. It’s got a plinky-plonky New Age pan flute score and a horndog best friend ready to quip a dumb one-liner at all times. It’s got some of the shittiest green-screen in years and relies almost entirely on it for its climax and dream sequences. It’s clearly the product of a tortuous production, as much a labour of love as it is a labour of please-for-the-love-of-fuck-let-us-finish-this.
So why does it exist?
It came very, very close to not existing. The film was originally set to be directed by Dutch director George Sluizer (of the great 1988 film The Vanishing) before a cataclysmic series of financial clusterfucks forced him off the project mid-way through (he retains an on-screen co-director credit). Schneider eventually took the role to ensure the movie got finished and the film sat on the shelf for almost three years before getting an unceremonious release by a small-time DVD distributor who has released nothing I’ve ever heard of. It’s clear there was an attempt to break Schneider out of his mould and it’s even clearer nobody had any faith in it whatsoever (ironic considering the film constant reminder of the importance of faith). It’s sort of an unfortunate fate for The Chosen One, not because it’s a particularly good movie but rather because a wider release may have shown the world that Rob Schneider could rise above being the butt of the joke. Little could have saved The Chosen One but at this rate, it has the status of a buried embarrassment when it should be an honorable failure. It’s not successful but they tried; it’s more than one can say for most of what Schneider’s put out recently. Keep it up, Rob. Never give up, never surrender.