June 7, 2008

Movie Review: You Don't Mess with the Zohan

I laughed. There, I said. I went to an Adam Sandler movie and I laughed. Why? It was funny. At times it was riotously funny. It is shameless in its willingness to push the boundaries of good taste. I daresay, You Don't Mess with the Zohan may just be Sandler's funniest "stupid" comedy since the 1990's. Of course, he has not made a movie that is this outrageous since Anger Management paired him with Jack Nicholson back in 2003.

The past decade has seen Sandler attempt to expand his goofy voiced man-child character repertoire into other arenas. He has tried the arthouse comedy with Punch Drunk Love, the romantic comedy with 50 First Dates, the more mature "adult" comedy with Spanglish and Click, and even drama with Reign Over Me. While all of those has been successful to one degree or another, he has never been able to shake the stigma of his early work, which brought him so much fame in the early 1990s. You Don't Mess with the Zohan is something of a tribute to those fans who have stuck with him over the years, and it is a fun return to his roots.

This time out Sandler is Zohan, an Israeli counter-terrorist agent who has grown weary of the constant fighting, exhausted from all of the hate, and he no longer wishes to take part in it any longer. He has dreams of leaving Israel, moving to the United States, and becoming a hair stylist (working for Paul Mitchell, of course). When he isn't out catching terrorists or out doing a little disco dancing (and showing off his crotch), he studies an old Paul Mitchell book of hair styles, plotting a way out. His parents think he is silly for having such thoughts, believing he should be content with his terrorist catching gifts and enjoy his life in the military.

Zohan refuses to give up his dream, and when a face off with a terrorist known as Phantom (John Turturro), he sees a way out. He fakes his death only to resurface in New York, where he goes about making his dream a reality. It is a task that is not as easy as he had thought. After a few failed auditions (including battling dreads he believes to be an animal), he finds a job with a Palestinian woman named Dalie (Emmanuelle Chriqui). It is here that he plies his newfound trade, cutting the hair of elderly woman and also providing them with sex (leading to many humorous scenes).

This is not only a film about discovering oneself; there are secondary plotlines. One of the other threads is the obvious romantic story that builds between Zohan and Dalia. The bigger thread is one that attempts to bring in some social commentary, playing peacemaker between Israelis and Palestinians living in New York, brought together by an underhanded land developer (Michael "Let's Get Ready to Rumble" Buffer) who is trying to demolish the neighborhood to make way for a mall. Bringing the story full circle, and helping keep focus on Zohan, his military past comes back to haunt him, as an Arab cabbie (Rob Schneider) recognizes our hero and sets out to bring about his downfall.

Above all else, this is a movie about in your face (at times, literally) sight gags, and just being flat out stupid, and at this it succeeds. However, there is that underlying comment on the futility of war, the "can't we all just get along" vibe. While the story has some real world resonance, I strongly suspect that it is more of a by-product, an attempt to make the story a bit more palatable.

As a whole, this movie plays that fine line between comedy that is stupid funny and comedy that is stupid stupid. You Don't Mess with the Zohan shows us just how fine that line can be. I am sure that many people will not find this nearly as funny s I did, while others are likely to enjoy it more than I did. One thing is certain, there is a lot, and I mean a lot of stupid comedy in this movie. You are either going to like it, or you're not. It really is that simple.

Bottomline. I like this movie. This is no great film, nor is it the best comedy of the year, but it is definitely a step up from last year's I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (also directed by Dennis Dugan). While the title is a bit unwieldy, the comedy is there. Sandler shows that he can still do the goofy, stupid comedy of his youth, and I laughed.



Anonymous said...

By far one of Adam Sandler's worst movies. There were a few laughs but the story didn't go anywhere and the ending was horrendous. Im sorry to say but this was a giant step down from I know Pronounce you Chuck and Larry.

FictionalWoman said...

I laughed from the moment I sat down until I got up. Outrageously clever, silly, stupid, smart, and over the top, all at the same time. I am an Adam Sandler fan, I admit, but I thought this film was, perhaps, the funniest I have ever seen. And I am a 52 year old woman.... not his expected audience I would think.

Anonymous said...

Adam Sandler tends to do his best work when he stays casual, not trying too hard to be funny or deep, etc.

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