Entertainment » Movies

You Don’t Mess With The Zohan

by David Foucher
EDGE Publisher
Friday Jun 6, 2008
You Don’t Mess With The Zohan

I'm a big Adam Sandler fan - when he's on his mark. "You Don't Mess With The Zohan" is an uncomfortable mix of brilliant comedic ideas and unfortunate writing, however. The script (penned by Sandler, Judd Apatow and Robert Smigel) saps the hysterical premise - an Israeli commando who fakes his own death to become a hair stylist in New York - of the one absolute requisite of effective humor: a sense of spontaneity.

"Zohan" has one oversized comedic value, however, that survives the pedantic script - and might have been effective on its own merits. The central character systematically de-glorifies sex into a tool used for career advancement, the altruistic joy of others, and even in lieu of a "thank-you" note. Sign me up!

The plot is quite simple. Zohan (Sandler, who beefed up for the role - and it shows!) is a shaggy Jewish James Bond who trades in his Uzi for a blowdryer after he simply gets fed up with the commando lifestyle. He fakes his own death, moves to New York, beguiles the (mostly elderly) patrons of a two-bit hair salon with his "silky smooth" hairstyles followed amicably by backroom sex, and falls in love with the Palestinian salon owner (Emmanuelle Chriqui). You can fill in the gaps.

This is traditional Sandler at work, ultimately following the patter of "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" in over-emphasizing stereotypes in order to undermine them. Ironically, the stereotypical humor here is more enjoyable, casting Israelis as oversexed dealers of used electronics and Arabs as underprivileged, desperate cab drivers and newspaper stand salesmen. It works, particularly after Dina Doron drawls, "They've been fighting for two thousand years; how much longer can it take?" It's a line meant to defuse critics who see the Middle Eastern conflict as an inappropriate subject for a two-hour joke: lighten up, people.

Unfortunately, the engaging first twenty minutes leads to a lackluster second act; once Zohan takes up the shears the film begs for its own cut. The gaps are filled in with less-than-humorous cracks about hummus and hacky-sack, which, while their slapstick elements force a smile onto your face, lack the complex comedic merits of Apatow and Sandler's earlier farces.

Fortunately, Sandler makes the character work, particularly his most endearing quality - the aforementioned view of sex as an all-purpose tool in his arsenal. He struts around with his oversized manhood proudly on display, and offering hedonistic sex-fests for the slightest of reasons - as negotiating tools, in gratitude of small favors, and especially, as the climactic denouement of a cut and blowdry. And while Sandler's attempted breakdown of Middle Eastern stereotypes ends in a dull finish, his attempt to de-politicize world conflict no doubt destined to fall on deaf ears, his sexually-charged character is a delight to watch. No doubt audiences will largely forget how the film ends (I already have), but they're not likely to forget the image of Zohan banging Lainie Kazan's character in thanks for a tip on an empty apartment for him to rent.

David Foucher is the CEO of the EDGE Media Network and Pride Labs LLC, is a member of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalist Association, and is accredited with the Online Society of Film Critics. David lives with his daughter in Dedham MA.

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