Monday, June 9, 2008

Yisrael Hazaka Eim Zohan

As my previous post may have tipped you off, You Don't Mess with the Zohan is a fairly silly film set in the world of a very serious issue but fails to tackle it in any sort of interesting way. There is plenty of silliness in Adam Sandler's newest film but it's message is as saccharine and lame as any in a mainstream Sandler comedy. Furthermore Sandler gets peanut-butter in his thematic chocolate making the movie more about the dangers of gentrification than about the socio/political divide between Israelis and Arabs. The film is at it's sharpest (and I use the word generously) when it's speaking to the immigrant experience or commenting on the conflict comedically, the moment director Dennis Dugan puts the breaks on the gags and the sentimental music comes trickling in the movie is as flat and inert as can be.
The film follows Sandler's Zohan, a legendary, super-heroic counter-terrorist who tires from constantly battling Palestinian terrorist the Phantom (a game John Turturro not given too much to do) . He'd rather pursue his dream of cutting and styling hair in America. After faking his own death, Zohan makes his way to NYC under the unlikely alias of Scrappy Coco (named for the two dogs he stowed away) where his dreams of working at the Paul Mitchell salon are quashed by his lack of formal training and his lack of awareness of any hair-style past 1987. Zohan finds a dwelling when he saves the wimpy Michael (Nick Swardson sporting an awful haircut but consistently funny) and starts shacking up with the young man's zaftig mother (a free-of-shame Lanie Kazan). Zohan eventually finds employ and love in a Little Middle East part of town working for (gasp) a Palestinian hairdresser played by the hot but bland Emmanuelle Chiquri. Zohan is a sensation for his confident, sexual favor filled styling sessions but he endangers himself when he is recognized by a Palestinian cab driver (Rob Schneider) who wants to make a name for himself. All this gets sidetracked when a real estate developer (Michael Buffer in a role that SHOULD have gone to Christopher McDonald) threatens both sides of the neighborhood with his plan to by up the local business and open a mall.
I will say this for the film, it is unashamedly silly and Sandler 100% commits himself to his intense but ultimately sweet character. There is no end to how far the gags in the film go and while the various story frames don't fit the style, Apatow and Smigel should be commended for unleashing this kind of unabashed stream of ridiculousness. The film especially loses steam when it becomes about fighting off gentrification. A scene where Mariah Carey makes an appearance is even worse, the film doesn't just stop, it basically keels over and dies as Carey tries to determine whether or not there is in fact a bee in her dressing room. Ugh. Providing no real insight on Israeli or Palestinian culture (Israelis are basically macho shysters in the film, while it doesn't take much for the Palestinians to be terrorists, just a phone call) the film could've stood to provide some more humorous bits on the culture clash between Middle Eastern immigrants and an American populace who is incapable of distinguishing them from one another. I don't dislike the movie for what it is, but here was a missed opportunity for some very smart writers to make a really sharp comment on an important modern day conflict in front of a large mainstream audience but instead we get multiple butt shots and hummus on everything.

2 comments:

Frank said...

The Catholic League (Pat, Peter, and me) all really enjoyed it, referring to it as the Middle Eastern equivalent of "Undercover Brother". We also all agreed that we had a better time at this film than at "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull".

El Gigante said...

The Catholic League, good lord. Yeah ok, Middle Eastern Undercover Brother, that's a fair take on it. I will say I thought the conversation about whether or not the goat could fetch soup or soap was pretty damn funny.