You Don’t Mess With the Zohan (2008)

It’s always seemed that my parent’s generation has a tendency to think of Adam Sandler as a comedy buffoon.  In the early years he made a name as a high-energy goofball and the loudest guy in the room.  Both Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore follow this blueprint with an excess of voices and slapstick and dirty jokes.  His newer films feel pretty much the same, just a little older, a little less energy.  It works for him, and perhaps because it’s something I grew up with I’ve never had a problem with it.  On the other hand, there’s nothing fresh about Adam Sandler’s comedy.  As much as you’re laughing, you’re never remarking on its quality, never aware of any polish.  And while there certainly are notable titles in Sandler’s comedic filmography, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan is definitively NOT one of them.

Adam Sandler’s Zohan is an Israeli counter-terrorist, a superhero really, whose indifference to the constant bloodshed between his nation and Palestine leads him to the unlikely dream of cutting and styling hair in the great America.  Here he runs the gambit of disappointment that inevitably follows the pursuit of a dream, and ends up at a small shop owned by the excessively attractive and Palestinian (gasp!) Dahlia (Emmanuelle Chriqui).  When finally given his shot, Zohan makes good on his claim to make the masses “silky smooth,” throwing in the added bonus of sexing up every last one of his elderly female patrons.  Only when corporate mogul Grant Walbridge (Michael Buffer…yes, the “Let’s get ready to rummmbbbllle” guy) decides to kick the Israelis and Palestinians out of their shops so he can build his megamall does Zohan find himself fighting for a cause he believes in…hairdressing.

Let me first say that I did spend a fair share of time laughing.  It’s fun to see how far over-the-top Sandler is willing to go with this Israeli superhero, and the abundance of wacky sight gags is almost staggering.  The number of times Zohan shoots something out of his butt alone is enough to win the heart of any seven-year-old.  Still, as many legitimate laughs as there may be here, there are just as many unintended.  This thing is an awful accent extravaganza, including a truly terrible Jamaican Chris Rock cameo.  Literally, Rob Schneider may be the only person capable of putting on a believable Palestinian accent.  At no point do they take advantage of the perpetually hilarious Nick Swardson as Zohan’s new American friend Michael, choosing instead to make him the punchline of every MILF joke imaginable.  John Turturro as Zohan’s Pakistani counterpart, The Phantom, is simply off the mark throughout.  Having nailed some truly memorable comedic roles for our generation (The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou, even Mr. Deeds) it’s disappointing to see him forced to do so little with, well, so little.  On top of what’s lacking with the comedy, there are just too many story elements that force a grimace.  The conflict with Walbridge is unattended for most of the story, then thrust at you suddenly in the end, with a bizarre white supremacist Dave Matthews (yes, the Ants Marching guy) giving Zohan the opportunity to kick one last ass.  Even the “Romeo/Juliet” love story feels stupidly contrived, and really, how hard is it to throw together a decent love story?

Regardless of everything else though, there is one main issue that relegates Zohan to the bottom-tier of comedy and that is this: there  is no shortage of decent comedy being produced.  As a genre that luxuriates in not requiring any real critical success, comedy can live on the plain below all the Oscar junk.  Though it sometimes may be better for it, it certainly doesn’t have to be heady or intellectual or even touching, just funny.  Recognizing this, it’s that much more frustrating when a comedy falls flat.  I expect better of the three writers credited for this film, Sandler, Robert Smigel and Judd Apatow.  These are comedy dons and there’s no reason for them to not shoot higher, to not do more when we know they’re capable of it.  For all their lofty ambitions of adding laughs to the Hatfield/McCoy feud of the Gaza Strip, in the end this Sandler-as-goofball vehicle is just a mess, a hummus and dick joke covered mess.

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2 responses to “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan (2008)

  1. you stole my awesome pun for the name of your blog. dick.

  2. Took me time to read all the comments, but I really enjoyed the article. It proved to be Very helpful to me and I am sure to all the commenters here! Its always nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained! Im sure you had fun writing this article.

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