REVIEW: You Don’t Mess with the Zohan [2008]

“Hey, it’s Sony guts”

What has happened to Adam Sandler? Billy Madison is one of my all-time favorite comedies, the romance-inclined Wedding Singer is fantastic, and his forays into serious fare—Punch-Drunk Love and Reign Over Me—have shown the talent hidden beneath the 5-year old trapped in a 40-year old body routine. As far as his production company’s new work goes, in my opinion, a lot is left to be desired. Sadly, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan does nothing to alleviate those feelings. Yes the trailer looked absolutely horrible, but I still held hope that something would click and give me an enjoyable experience once again. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely laughed throughout, it’s just that those laughs were more out of embarrassment for those on screen and because if I didn’t chuckle at the asinine events, I would have needed to walk out from boredom. It appears that the Judd Apatow name means zilch when attached to a film he does not deem important enough to direct himself. This one is marginally better than Walk Hard, his last script helper, but not by much.

The concept at hand has some potential. With an utterly preposterous sub-plot involving Sandler’s Israeli Mossad agent faking his death in a fight with the leading Palestinean terrorist in the Middle East so that he can come to America and live his dream of being a hairstylist, you won’t be thinking anything will be learned by watching. However, there are some moments that shed some criticism to the fight in the Middle East over land and religion as well as bringing up issues of compromise and acceptance for success in the US. As one Israeli says, he has just as hard a time fitting in as the Arabs … because Americans confuse him as one. These two sides look similar, speak similar, and hold a large amount of national pride, containing a lot more in common than the war would like to admit. Leave it to Sandler and company to lambaste these moments with absurdity and broad humor, sending up the issue while also shining light on it although in a very dumbed down manner. Would I have liked more of this and less sexual innuendo? I don’t really think it would have helped any.

Right from the start we are shown what to expect—physical humor, sight gags, and obnoxiously drawn out sequences that start out funny yet finally fall flat. If the craziness leaves any mark it’s the fact that Sandler got in pretty good shape for this role. Did he do so because of the script, or did he write it all to show off? Unnecessarily gratuitous shots of his backside, complete with fish and hacky sacks finding their way there, only made me hope that some real comedy was coming soon. Instead what we get is an abundance of Hummus, horrible fake accents (I need to believe these were purposely bad, especially Chris Rock’s), and as many allusions to Sandler’s Scrappy Coco satisfying the elderly clientele he cuts hair for as possible. There are some surprises, such as the truth to what is in his shorts as well as the plethora of cameos straight from left field (Dave Matthews?!), but for the most part, it is a completely obvious string of random events tied together with a thin plotline that really is secondary to the set-pieces and toilet humor.

While the sex jokes got old really fast—how many times can he hump the women and spray water suggestively before our smiles turn to yawns—the ethnic ones had a bit more life. Hummus as a universal food aside, I did find the random disco moments and Mariah Carey t-shirts humorous for the most part and the faulty Hezbollah phone line is priceless. Rob Schneider and John Turturro are over-the-top hams as always, actually a positive thing, never taking the roles seriously. Even Sandler, for what it’s worth, plays the part well. The racial stereotypes definitely trump anything on display throughout; the writers involved holding nothing back and having no shame at all. And Emmanuelle Chriqui is absolutely gorgeous and likeable, playing a similar role to her part on “Entourage,” with the addition of a bad accent.

After all the headshaking and prayers for the film to either get better or just end, it is the supporting cast that leaves the only real indelible mark. The surprise cameos are just too many to mention and for the most part successful across the board. While the Zohan is a one-note joke beaten to death, those surrounding him attempt to infuse a little variety. Unfortunately the final result reminds me more of a recent “Saturday Night Live” skit, containing a funny premise and then killing it by not knowing when to stop while ahead. Even after seeing the foot fight in the trailers, the actual scene was still pretty hilarious. But what do the filmmakers do? Oh yes, they use the gimmick a few more times, including a sad, extended sequence in a fight scene at the end concerning new shoes, squeezing any laughter that might have still remained out way too early.

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan 3/10 | ★


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