Big Stan
HBO // R // $24.98 // March 24, 2009
Review by Tyler Foster | posted March 24, 2009
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I admit it: like almost every online film critic, I have screenwriting ambitions. My least favorite thing to find rereading old scripts is the "half-joke": where I took something that (at the time) I found comedic and merely referenced it instead of writing an actual gag. Big Stan is full of half-jokes, and they're all about the same thing: prison rape. Prison rape fuels the plot, motivates the characters, and is referenced at least a hundred times in the movie's 109 minutes, and not a single one of them works. Yet Big Stan was easy to watch. It may not be funny, but it isn't unfunny either, and more surprisingly provides a vehicle for Schneider's martial arts skills (really) and even his genial charisma when he isn't mugging a joke into submission.

Awkwardly, the movie basically has two plots. In both, Schneider plays Stan Minton, a real-estate scammer who makes a living conning old women into buying time shares in coke-fiend-riddled neighborhoods. The first plot: When the law cracks down on Stan's unfair practices, his lawyer bribes the judge into giving Stan six months to get his affairs in order, but Stan only has one bit of business to take care of: protecting his ass, literally. Stan finds what he's looking for in The Master (David Carradine), with whom he strikes a deal to be taught the ways of the warrior and prevent any cell-block violations. The second plot kicks in when Stan finally arrives at prison: stop the corrupt warden (Scott Wilson) from getting the prison shut down and turned into a time-share metropolis.

Unfortunately, neither of these stories are very interesting. The first one feels like it should either be the entire movie or a five-minute montage, but the film tries to have it both ways, stretching 40 minutes worth of material out of Stan's meandering desire to be a badass. I doubt that when Carradine first got the call from Tarantino about starring as the title villain in Kill Bill he was imagining a career "resurrection" that involved playing second fiddle to Rob Schneider in a direct-to-video comedy, doing masturbation jokes and saying lines like "You couldn't kick the shit out of a paper bag...full of shit." Admittedly, with me he scored the movie's one and only laugh, but he looks so disheveled they might as well have cast a David Carradine impersonator. In fact, the movie has a whole string of recognizable character actors (Scott Wilson, M. Emmet Walsh, Richard Kind, Richard Riehle and Henry Gibson) in roles that could have been filled by anyone. At least the beautiful, bubbly Jennifer Morrison raises the charm of any scene she appears in (not that the movie gives her anything relevant to do either).

And then there's Rob himself. Big Stan has several fight sequences in which Rob does his own martial arts, and he's actually kinda good at it. Now, on one hand, I'm no expert, and I'm sure Jackie Chan could do this stuff with his eyes closed, but as far as the movie goes, Schneider holds his own (his skill with the nunchaku is particularly impressive, and for the record, it's clear that Rob is actually doing it). Rob's the director too, but his staging of the fight sequences is not as smooth (be prepared to see Rob fall down, a lot). If I were him, I'd have handed the camera to someone else, and taken a crack at the script instead. Perhaps he wanted to tackle Big Stan on his own, but stealing some of Adam Sandler's writing cohorts might have given the movie the anarchic boost it so clearly needs.

I personally don't mind Rob Schneider, but I've also never thought he needed to star in his own movies. To its minor credit, there are moments in Big Stan that made me think I might be wrong, but looking at the bigger picture isn't going to convince anyone. It's friendly, but it isn't funny, Schneider's direction is pretty mediocre, and its story of the underdog hero doesn't compare favorably to Schneider's real-life career ambitions.

Packed into a single-width keepcase, the front cover has the head of Rob Schneider and Will Arnett's badly-tanned love child poorly Photoshopped onto an orange Creamsicle, with some unrelated fists stamping the title into the potential purchaser. The back cover has pictures of Schneider wreaking some mild madness. I don't know why the special features box is so tiny, though. The disc features another photo of Schneider, and there's no insert. The menu is easy to navigate.

The Video
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation of Big Stan looks thoroughly cheap. It's a little soft, a little grainy, a little digital, and brightly colored. For a movie like this, it's good enough, but this is not one of the better transfers I've viewed recently.

The Audio
English 5.1 is basic. There are some fight scenes, but not a lot of directionality going on. Since this is a comedy, dialogue comes strong through the front channels and that's all that matters. Still, despite a full-on dance sequence (yep), the soundscape is so empty this might as well be a 2.0 track. English, French and Spanish subtitles are provided.

The Extras
An audio commentary gathers Rob and actors Buddy Lewis and Salvator Xuereb for a quiet chat about the making of Big Stan (I wonder why Rob's producing-partner brother John wasn't available). It's pretty low-key. There's a lot of laughing at the film, back-patting and self-deprecation, but information on the production is slim, jokes are often repeated or explained, and I doubt it will hold an audience's attention. The fact that one of these three guys mispronounces "cerebral" pretty much sums it up. Instead...

"Comedy is Pain: The Making of Big Stan" (30:24) is a much better document of Schneider's struggle to complete Big Stan, and whether you love or hate him, you have to admire the guy's dedication. You'll also probably feel kind of bad watching someone put as much effort into making such a resoundingly mediocre film as he does (the featurette is bookended by Rob's collapse due to heat exhaustion). There's a lot of behind-the-scenes footage of the martial arts footage, but you also get to meet the movie's "boob wrangler", see David Carradine smacking Schneider with a flaming torch, and witness the application of Rob's stretched-nipple chestpiece. I also can't argue with more Jennifer Morrison, who is as charming out-of-character as she is in-character, and Rob gets in his signature "you can do it!" as well. Anyone who ends up with a copy of the DVD should be sure to check it out.

Lastly, "Odds & Ends" (4:15) is a pleasant musical montage of behind-the-scenes footage that apparently didn't make the cut in the other documentary, compiled into a single video bonus. Convenient. The bonus features are not subtitled/closed captions, and there is no theatrical trailer.

If you're a Rob Schneider completist, Big Stan is certainly easy to sit through, but sadly, it isn't very funny. I feel like I'm being harsh, because it's all extremely pleasant, but unless Big Stan is on TV, skip it.

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