June 05, 2008

You Don't Mess with the Zohan

Making Menudo

Grade: C +
Director: Dennis Dugan
Starring: Adam Sandler, John Turturro, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Nick Swardson, and Rob Schneider
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 1 hour, 53 minutes

I may burn in some critics’ hell for writing this, but You Don’t Mess with the Zohan is not an unmitigated disaster. In fact, its “best” moments spent skewering the unending Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the bigotry heaped toward both groups on the American home front, glimpse the same brand of irreverent lunacy that elevated the likes of Harold & Kumar, Team America: World Police, and, once upon a time, Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. No, I have not lost my senses and equated a Chaplin classic with an Adam Sandler vehicle. But, beneath its lunk-head exterior lays a modicum of social satire that, in the hands of another star carrying less historically mediocre baggage, might not be so easily dismissed.

There are also obvious echoes of The Jazz Singer when Sandler’s Zohan, a superhuman Mossad agent and lascivious ladies’ man with a hummus addiction, defies the expectations of both his homeland and parents by faking his death in order to escape to New York City and realize his suppressed dream of becoming a Paul Mitchell hair designer protégée. Sporting an oversized cod piece, ‘80s style pompadour, and alter ego called Scrappy Coco (drawn from the names of his canine, fellow cargo-hold travelers), Zohan lands work in the heart of NYC’s Lower East Side where he is astounded to find Israeli and Palestinian expatriates living and working side-by-side in relative peace.

However, a movie that spotlights Rob Schneider in brown-face has a lot to overcome. The puerile humor mostly overwhelms the satire in a screenplay co-written by Sandler, Robert Smigel, and Judd Apatow (seriously, did this guy make some deal with the devil so he is credited in every movie comedy nowadays?). Matters quickly degenerate into barrage of bathroom humor, broad caricatures, and Zohan’s proclivity for schtupping his elderly salon clientele. There are the de rigueur gay gags, commonplace to any Sandler production. A scene in which a trio of terrorist wannabes plot a bombing in the heart of the Big Apple conjures a palpable discomfort only mildly assuaged by the payoff: a pharmacist misunderstands their broken English and provides them with “Neosporin” instead of “nitro glycerin.” And, there are scenes of just plain weirdness: Zohan presents a gaggle of streets kids with an animal sculpture cobbled from the rocks those same urchins had just hurled at him - for a moment, I felt the same sensation of enduring Life is Beautiful, or what it must have felt like for the few who have screened Jerry Lewis' The Day the Clown Cried.

The copious cameos generally fall flat, with the notable exception of Dave Matthews as a racist redneck. Subplots come and go like last year’s hair styles, significant for not only a lack of thematic cohesion but also as the main culprit in the film’s excessive 113-minute running time (which feels more like 213 minutes to anyone caught in a theater showing it). Unfortunately, for all its nascent potential, not messing with Zohan likely includes not watching it, either.

Neil Morris

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Adam Sandler is classic in his own way, though he tends to do his best work when he stays casual, not trying too hard to be funny or deep, etc.