New reviews this week: ‘You Don’t Mess With the Zohan’

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of the angry, infantile idiots and repressed child-men that made Adam Sandler’s career. He probably is too and thankfully puts those crutches away to play something a little different here. But only a little. To paraphrase the title, you don’t mess with a winning formula.

The Zohan, Israeli counter-terrorist hero and all-around super-dude, may be a one man army in the field, but in the hours before an assignment he escapes his life of violence to dream about cutting hair and making the manes of the world silky smooth. And then he escapes in real life. Armed with a 1987 Paul Michell style book and a pair of precision scissors that may be registered as a lethal weapon with Mossad, Zohan fakes his death in a showdown with his arch-enemy The Shadow (John Turturro), a Palestinian terrorist-turned-media-celebrity, and heads for the States with a mission: to wash, snip and coif the matrons of New York until they look like aging queens of the most excessive crimes of eighties New Wave fashion.

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Imagine Warren Beatty in “Shampoo” by way of a Jewish Rambo, a loyal son of Israel who loses his most potent gift when he falls for a Palestinian beauty (Emmanuelle Chriqui). Sandler has fun pushing his nice Jewish boy schtick into extremes, where sex is not just part of the service but the responsibility of a loyal Hebrew stud who brings his unflinching soldier’s code to his new profession. But the codpiece gags and sex machine references get old fast – what is it about sexual humor that makes so many filmmakers think that they don’t need to actually write a joke, just suggest some bit of coitus extremis and then expect the audience to laugh at the mere idea?

The situation flirts with political satire but really just props up the usual gags with a new cultural backdrop, spoofing stereotypes (the hard-sell Jewish salesman, the distracted Arab cab driver, and the all-purpose intolerant American suspicious of all immigrants and accents) with cartoonish exaggeration. The “let’s all just get along” message is at its most effortless when the immigrant Israeli and Palestinian communities of New York turn political squabbles into lively bonding bull sessions over disco music and the adoration of women of a certain age (is there something about mid-east culture and mature women that I don’t know?). And whether by design or mere impertinence, the multi-ethnic cast only blurs the identity differences more.

I review the film for the Seattle P-I here:

There is a weird mixed message behind the jokes.

The early scenes present racial polarization in Israel and the West Bank as a simple fact of existence and quite possibly insurmountable. But once relocated to America, the immigrant Israeli and Palestinian communities turn political squabbles into lively bonding exchanges over disco music, Hacky Sack, hummus (which has more uses than duct tape) and the pop diva fabulousness of Mariah Carey.

When met with mutual prejudice from intolerant Americans who justify their suspicions of immigrants and accents under the guise of patriotism, they have a lot more in common than not.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I’m a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I’ve written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View.

I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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