Co-written by Judd Apatow and Adam Sandler, You Don’t Mess With Zohan is the first collision between modern comedy’s two most successful troupes. The Frat Pack meets the Happy Madison Gang, and if Scooby Doo were to show up in the Mystery Machine somehow that might seem pretty appropriate. Because of Apatow’s involvement, the big question on everyone’s brain is whether this is Sandler’s attempt to change his style, and move towards the mix of smart drama and raunchy humor which have made Judd’s recent efforts the toast of Hollywood. But it isn’t. Instead, Zohan goes in precisely the opposite direction. Maybe this is an answer to Apatow’s movies, but if it is, it’s answering by doing something completely different.
You Don’t Mess with the Zohan would fit more comfortably on a shelf next to Austin Powers than it would Knocked Up. Zohan is that kind of character. It’s hilarious because it’s so far over the top, funny because it’s so completely insane that you have no choice but to laugh. There is no smart, sympathetic, affecting story here to drive the plot. Just out of control, sometimes risky, almost certainly offensive comedy driven by fun with stereotypes, fun with penis jokes, and fun with Sandler’s uber-spy Zohan character.
Maybe spy isn’t even the right word to describe Zohan. He’s more like a Jewish superhero. Except if he has super powers, they aren’t derived from radioactive gamma rays or some accident in space, but by the simple fact of his manliness. Zohan is the ultimate man, a testosterone god, which only makes it all the more funny when he decides to abandon his life hunting terrorists in Israel for a quiet career in New York City as a hair stylist. Along the way Zohan makes friends and has sex with nearly every woman he meets. It’s his way of thanking them, whether it be for their business or for a good meal. Soon elderly women are lined up around the block for his hair cuts, which are good, and the post-hair cut sex, which we’re told by Mrs. Garrett after a wall-shaking session, is also very good.
Unfortunately all is not good for Sandler’s New York neighborhood. Some of his Arab neighbors have recognized him as the terrorist killing superhero Zohan, and so they set out to eliminate him. Luckily Zohan’s enemies are better at driving cabs than they are at taking out enemy targets. Also in the mix are a bunch of corporate assholes, intent on turning Zohan’s Arab and Israeli neighbors against each other, in an effort to drive them out and make room for a mega-mall. Arab and Israeli stereotypes are mined for intense comedic energy, and just to keep us all from getting offended they make fun of a few rednecks too.
Adam Sandler is surprisingly committed to the role. While we’ve seen Sandler commit as a dramatic actor, normally his comedies revolve around a guy who happens to be a lot like Adam Sandler, thrust into various comedic situations. In Zohan he takes on a cartoonish, yet completely different persona and makes it work. I’m not saying he’s going to win any new converts here, Sandler movies have always appealed only to Sandler fans (luckily for him there’s a lot of them), and Zohan or no Zohan I fully expect everyone else will go right on hating him. Still, credit where credit is due. Sandler and his gang really are trying something a little different for this one… and it pays off in belly laughs.
If the movie lags anywhere, it’s in the middle when there’s some attempt to shoe-horn in a romantic sub plot. There’s even an awkward scene in which Jewish Zohan attempts to discuss the Middle East situation in a somewhat serious manner. I’m not sure why they bothered. It seems out of place in a movie where Adam Sandler catches bullets with his nose and cooks fish with his naked butt. Luckily, those attempts at responsible discussion of real life politics are few and far between. For the most part, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan gives itself over almost entirely to the ludicrous, and is all the better for it.
Hollywood has made more than its fair share of movies about terrorism and the Middle East recently. All were met with complete and utter audience disinterest. Zohan is technically another one of those movies, but it approaches the topic as irresponsibly as possible. Terrorists are portrayed as if they’re G.I. Joe villains intent on opening fast food chains and we learn that should the Jews and Arabs ever solve their problems, the result will not be world peace, but the world’s most awesome super power. It’s not only gut-bustingly funny, unlike all those other more responsible Middle East movies; it’s also something people might want to watch. If sight gags, cock jokes, and crazy caricatures are your thing, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan pulls it off better than any movie since Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Sandler’s intentionally insensitive comedy sledgehammer will leave you laughing your ass off.
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