‘Zohan’ a Mess

by Ian T. McFarland on June 6, 2008

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: You Don’t Mess with the Zohan
  • IMDB: link

Adam Sandler, for all of the attention going to Judd Apatow‘s posse, might still be the king of the Hollywood Comedy.  Every of the past five years, he’s released a mainstream comedy that’s grossed into nine digits, even though they’re all shallow attempts at humor that make the actors’ meager but entertaining first efforts Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore look like they belong on AFI’s 100 lists.  We would all like to see Sandlers latest, You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, be a return to those mid 90s semi-classics; but it’s only a strange permutation of the mainstream, dry comedy that Sandler has been dropping on us for a decade now.

Zohan is an Israeli military machine, partially responsible for keeping Pakistan at bay in the 60-year-feud between the two nations; but all the guy really wants to do is move to New York and make hair silky smooth as a stylist.  When he finally does make it, he gives his customers the kinds of stylings you hoped would never escape from your 1985 yearbook.  Somehow, the old ladies that make up his customer base love it, almost as much as they love having sex with Zohan after each session.  That’s right, he has sex with old ladies about 20 times a day.
It’s automatically an improvement from Sandler’s last film, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, which was grossly homophobic for a movie that would claim to protect the dignity of gay people, but there is plenty wrong with You Don’t Mess With the Zohan.  The most glaring error is its use of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  It’s a serious issue where there is no end result that satisfies everyone. Many have died, and aside from one joke, it just doesn’t yield any real humor.  The final moral of the movie is that fighting, like the kind going on in the Gaza Strip, resolves nothing, which is good; but Israel is still treated as the protagonist nation (Sandler even has a line as Zohan when he dismisses a Palestinians’s argument against Isreal, then kicks him off a ledge without any chance for a rebuttal), and when coupled with the knowledge that Sandler is a Republican and a Jew, you can’t help but feel it’s a partisan film that doesn’t bother to engage in any actual debate.  There might be a black comedy in this topic; but Sandler doesn’t make satires, he makes fart jokes
But there’s more wrong with the film than just the subject matter.  For one, Sandler doesn’t bring anything to his performance to keep it from feeling like a second-rate knock-off of Borat, and the constant sex jokes he presents are about as lame as they are unoriginal.  Then there’s the structure of the story, which is like a tossed salad of a few different movies – a Happy Madison comedy, a superhero movie and a stoner flick.  This movie isn’t a hybrid of those three models, it’s just short smatterings from each thrown into the mix randomly and without any competant structure.
It’s like they realized what a mess the movie was, and tried to compensate by throwing in random, physics-defying jokes to cover this up.  The strangest thing about this though, is that these jokes are kind of funny.  Actually, they’re the only thing that make the movie watchable.  Take, for example, the Deus Ex Machina that ends the conflict in the film.  Zohan and his equally over-the-top nemesis the Phantom (maniacally played by John Turturro) have resolved their differences but must stop a gang of redneck freedom-lovers from burning down a New York district that hosts a middle-eastern community.  The Solution?  Uh . . . sing at a high pitch.  It’s preposterous, and given that this element is never mentioned in the film beforehand, a sign of terrible screenwriting.  But – John Turturro screaming like a Chihuahua?  Actually kinda funny.

There are even some genuinely funny moments with Rob Schneider, a home-made bomb and the nearly-universal application of Humus, but the cheap laughs don’t make up for the total lack of structure or basis in any single reality in the film.  The middle-schoolers will no doubt flock to it for it’s wealth in the not-so-subtle sexuality jokes, but anybody over the age of 15-years-old is going to have trouble forgiving this terribly produced comedy that lucks into a few random gags.

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