June 13, 2008

REVIEW: You Don't Mess With the Zohan (C)

Background: Maybe it's just me, but for a second there I thought Adam Sandler was done with comedy. He weirded up for Punch-Drunk Love, tried a romantic novela with Spanglish, and swung for the Oscar fences with Reign Over Me. Of course, the truth was that he frequently squeezed comedies in between, but I just avoided almost all of them after Big Daddy. With You Don't Mess With the Zohan, Sandler reteams with his usual director, Dennis Dugan (don't let Happy Gilmore overshadow his directing debut with Problem Child), as well as some 90's SNL cast members, the up-and-coming Nick Swardson (Blades of Glory, "Reno 911!"), and the odd man out, John Turturro (Margot at the Wedding). Zohan was written by Sandler, SNL scribe Robert Smigel, and - you're not going to believe this - Judd Apatow, who also wrote this review. Yep, his name is printed here, so he wrote it.

Synopsis : Zohan (Sandler) is an Israeli counter-terrorism agent on vacation. Which means, of course, that he is usually naked and always gyrating his hips. A nude barbecue is interrupted when he's whisked away on assignment because his rival, The Phantom (Turturro), is causing trouble in Lebanon. Zohan reluctantly sets off in his usual outfit (a Mariah Carey t-shirt and Daisy Dukes) and dispatches of some Arabs on the way to the showdown with The Phantom, where he fakes his own death. Free of his military duties, he's off to New York City with a new identity ("Scrappy Coco") to fulfill his dream of being a hairstylist for Paul Mitchell. Somehow (it's shown, but not explained) he ends up living with a random Jewish guy (Swardson) and his mother, but he's unsuccessful in his job search until he settles for a salon "on the Palestinian side of the street," which happens to be owned by the beautiful Dalia. Zohan soon charms the pants (um, literally) off the salon's regular elderly women, who begin lining up at the door for his "services". Meanwhile, Dalia is fighting off hotel developers while Salim (Schneider), a former Palestinian foe of Zohan, learns his identity and prepares to strike. OK, let's just get this over with. The Phantom comes to New York for a hacky-sack tournament. Rednecks from the South are called up to incite Israeli-Palestinian violence. Mariah Carey shows up. So do a bunch of other people you'd recognize. Uh, let me think, some other stuff happens, yeah, it ends with a big fight and some kind of truce...whatever. Sex and hummus: that's the movie.

I Loved:
+ Kevin Nealon - what a great comeback!
+ Nick Swardson, who's starting to get a lot of attention here in his native Minnesota. And could he have looked any more like the child of Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly and/or Noah Emmerich?
+ The disco break at the hacky-sack game.

I Liked:
+ Dave Matthews - who knew he could nail the part of a redneck?
+ Rob Schneider - he wasn't really that funny, but he at least tried to "act" more than anyone else.

I Disliked:
- Zohan's voice - like a combination of Borat, Billy Madison, and Jar-Jar Binks.
- The Israeli accents that sounded French more than anything else.

I Hated:
- The hummus. What was that about?

Writing - 6
Acting - 6
Production - 8
Emotional Impact - 7
Music - 5
Significance - 5

Total: 37/50= 74% = C

Last Word: I should really underline the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict frames the entire length of You Don't Mess With the Zohan. For attempting some dialogue on the issue - as ridiculous as it might be - I commend Sandler. For everything else, I shame him, because the movie is, believe it or not, even more immature than Billy Madison. Repetitive sex jokes aren't really gut-busting, and the obsession with hummus (dipping eyeglasses in it to lick it off?) becomes more obnoxious than it could have ever seemed on paper. Worse, half of the humor depends on at least a basic understanding of Arab/Israeli relations, which I for some reason doubt is possessed by the movie's target audience. I won't deny that there are funny moments every now and then, but it could have been a lot funnier and a lot sharper overall, especially with the solid cast. Why waste writing and comedic acting talent on stupid subplots and toilet humor - and then take it a step further and dress it up as some kind of funny cultural satire? Here's some free advice: don't you mess with the Zohan when it arrives on DVD...


  1. Yeah, the hummus thing was weird. And it got really old, really fast.

    That was Dave Matthews??? Cool! I so did not get that.

    John Turturro was also in Sandler's Mr. Deeds. Sandler seems to work with the same people over and over...

  2. If I thought it would be worth my time, I might try to figure out what the hummus gag was for. Is it even that common of an Israeli stereotype? Uh, no. Odd the first time, stupid the 76 additional times.

    Wow, Turturro wasn't so odd, eh? Well like I said, since Big Daddy I've only seen 50 First Dates and Anger Management, in addition to PDL, Spang, and RoM.

  3. Maybe it was 'cause I had a bad week and really needed a laugh, but I enjoyed this all the way through. Even the hummus gags amused me. And this is coming from someone who usually avoids Sandler's movies like the plague.
    Go figure....

  4. Hey Daniel! Off topic, but...

    Local Bloggers Get-together

    I'll be there a little after 5.

  5. I feel much the same way as you, Daniel, but not quite as harshly. For sure, the running gags fell flat, mostly because they weren't really funny the first time around.

    I just wish it had been funnier. I'm fine with silly, immature humor, so long as it's done well. For instance, I thought Walk Hard was pretty damn funny. Here, not so much. I had a few good chuckles, and a couple where I laughed a lot at the absurdity (why did Matthews have puppies?), but overall didn't find it nearly as funny as I'd heard or as much as the rest of the audience. Still, there's something endearing about his movies that warms me up to them. I guess there's a softie in me somewhere after all...

  6. To each her own, Pat! Obviously I was interested enough to go and see it, so I can't blame you for finding it funny. I just didn't have a "taste" for the hummus, among other things.

    Thanks, Nayana, I would check it out but I'm headed to a birthday BBQ. Maybe it will be a regular thing?

    The hidden message in it was really the strongest part, Fletch - that's why I wish it wouldn't have been overshadowed with such extreme silliness. And besides falling flat, some of the scenes were just too long or drawn-out or something (actually I kind of thought the same for Walk Hard, but that's another issue). The ingredients for comedy in Zohan were there, but like you say, what comes out of the oven isn't really fit to serve.

  7. I gotta defend Sandler's "jokes that get old" charge. As Daniel said, to each his own. So true...

    ...but I've never felt that when Sandler overdoes a gag, that he's doing it b/c he thinks it's gonna be a knee slapper each time. I think he's attracted to the absurdity of it.

    Surely we all get the connection between Middle Easterners and Hummus, and after the first dinner scene where the joke is that Jews like Hummus on everything - even their spectacles! - that joke is dead. But when Sandler keeps it going it becomes so ridiculous that, to me, it's still works.

    But the best use of the hummus gag is the last one. Zohan uses a vat of it to put out a fire in a Palestinian's store. The social significance of a food that is popular in the Middle East - something both sides of the conflict can agree on - being the solution to the fire and strife happening in the street is greater than I think bloggers and critics are giving it credit for, simply b/c it's couched in such a playful manner.

  8. Fox, gold medal to you for making the most reasonable and convincing case for that gag. There is something to be said about Sandler's persistence in making jokes work 50 times in the same movie. Admittedly, I didn't get sick of the things he repeated in Happy Gilmore or The Wedding Singer. This time in this movie, it just didn't work for me. Thanks for commenting and especially bringing to light that last insight about the hummus-as-extinguisher.


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