YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN
US, 2008, 113 minutes, Colour.
Adam Sandler, John Turturro, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Nick Swardson, Kevin Nealon, Lainie Kazan, Rob Schneider, Shelley Berman.
Cameos: Chris Rock, John Mc Enroe, George Takei, Mariah Carey, Henry Winkler.
Directed by Dennis Dugan.
Adam Sandler comedies used to be raucous in his Billy Madison days. Then he went a bit more up-market with such comedies as The Wedding Singer, then more serious with Punch Drunk Love. Since then he has been combining most of these elements, which is what he is doing here. However, a lot of people are put off by the lowbrow end of his humour and this cancels out the middlebrow humour for them even though it is often quite good.
This is what has happened with this one. There are plenty of corny-to-crass jokes of a sexual variety as well as some farcical slapstick, especially when Israeli agent Zohan is doing battle with Palestinian champion, The Phantom. With that said, there remain quite a lot of gags and jokes that are entertaining.
On the serious side (at least in intention), this is a comedy about the present Israel -Palestine situation, the one that is deadly for that part of the Middle East with terrorist attacks and military reprisals. The subject of comedy? Of an Adam Sandler comedy? Why not? Millions of people are going to see it, have a laugh and maybe give not only a second thought but also a third thought and beyond to the sad and deadly implications of the conflict. Sandler is not trying to solve the problems or find a peace solution but, as an American Jewish comedian, he is asking his audiences to think about what each side has in common (apart from terrified Americans after 9/11 thinking that Jews and Arabs look the same so are suspicious of them)
and ask whether peace is possible.
Sandler plays Zohan a top Israeli agent whose nemesis is the Palestinian The Phantom (John Turturro in overdrive). Tired of warfare and possessed of a dream of going to New York to become a hair stylist (not what his Jewish Momma or father had in mind), he fakes his death and stows away to the US calling himself after the two poodles he travelled with. He doesn’t make immediate headway but finally gets a job in a Palestinian salon (on the Palestinian side of the street opposite the Jewish side) calling himself an Australian. Then the sex scenes begin! With the mother of the shy man whose side he takes in after demolishing a driver who caused a car accident, then with all the senior-age ladies who come to get their hair done and… It is probably important to note here that one of the writers is the now very successful Jud Appatow and, looking at recent films he has written and sometimes directed, we find that there is a ‘Jud Appatow Syndrome’ (in The 40 Year Old Virgin, in Knocked up and here): characters promote and indulge in promiscuity but finally discover genuine and true love and move to committed monogamy. No moralist could complain about that.
To complicate the Jewish -Palestinian conflict further, some Palestinians in New York (including an almost unrecognisable Rob Schneider who appears in most of Sandler’s films) want to firebomb Zohan’s salon in revenge for his confiscating their goat, and then some WASP capitalist developers hire thugs to disguise themselves as Palestinians and create warfare so that the Americans can come in, take over and build a mall!
Needless to say, there is a happy ending, with a love story between Zohan and his Palestinian boss, with The Phantom and his dream of selling shoes and with peace breaking out, at least on the street.
So, the Sandler formula of lowbrow, middlebrow comedy with something of a message.
1.Adam Sandler comedies, his screen presence, persona, comic, touch of the obnoxious, the touch of the genial? Dramatising vanity? Sexual prowess? Physical prowess? His capacity for timing, farce? His being the hero, antihero?
2.The title, the Israeli settings, the counterterrorism, Israeli agents, their achievement? Attitudes towards the Palestinians? The contrast with the Palestinians, the Phantom? His being traded for exchange of prisoners? The Mossad, giving a mission to the Zohan, setting up the mission? Going into action? Zohan and the fight with the Phantom, opting out, his dreams?
3.Israel and the challenge to security? The Palestinians? The butts of jokes on both sides? Exaggerating each side? In America their both being Semitic and hated, looking alike? Across the street in New York, the shops, the enmity? Yet the shared heritage, being targeted and used – especially by US capitalism? The love story from both sides of the street? The ending, the importance of the message – and the effectiveness of the light touch, the ruder touch, the spoof in getting people to see the futility of the hatred?
4.The middlebrow style of the story? The lowbrow jokes, sexuality, physicality? Audience response to the jokes – the fastidious disdaining the jokes, ordinary people enjoying them? The use of the camera for farcical aspects, speeding up, Zohan’s dexterity, the battles, the stunts and the effects? The Jud Apatow principle and the focus on promiscuity and the final realisation of true love and monogamy?
5.Zohan in action, cooking in the buff, his dexterity with the barbeque? His martial arts skill? Going home to his parents, telling them about his dream, their laughing at him? The gay jokes about hairdressers? His being called, the mission, the head of Mossad manipulating him into agreeing? Going into action, watching the Phantom on television, the confrontation, the fight, the bag underwater and his leaving? The Phantom victorious?
6.His looking at the Paul Mitchell book, his wanting to be a hairdresser, trimming his own hair? Going to New York, the dogs on the plane, calling himself Scrappy Coco after the dogs? Going to the salon, their laughing at him, his other attempts to get a job, seeing the crash, encountering Michael, fixing the car with a hit? Michael’s mother, inviting him to stay, the sexual encounters and Michael’s bewildered and disgusted reactions? The mother and Zohan being cavalier?
7.Going to Dahlia’s shop, on the Palestinian side of the street? The threats to the shop, the standover tactics of the developers? Dahlia agreeing for Zohan to sweep, his brisk action in getting every hair? The opportunity to cut, his sweet-talking the ladies, the innuendo, the old woman and her being agreeable, the sexual encounters, the promiscuity, the jokes? The discussions with Claude, Claude as gay? The success, the money, paying off the debts? The continued threats?
8.His going to the nightclub, meeting Oori, being recognised, not wanting a job in electronics? The jokes about Jews and electronics in New York City? His friends? The taxi drivers?
9.The taxi drivers in New York City, their insulting the women, wanting to get jobs, double jobs? Salim and his style, the story of the goat and Zohan taking it? The decision to get the bomb, going to the pharmacist, the splotch on the window?
10.The developer, the posters, the banquet, his plans, hiring the thugs, the attacks, the graffiti, the racists and their disguised as Palestinians and Jews? Getting all the people to the party, his stirring up trouble, the fire? Rebuilding in the new mall?
11.Dahlia and Zohan, finally agreeing, the bonding, going out together, his impotence, The old lady and her warning, the fact that he would learn monogamous love?
12.Michael, his character, alone, with his mother, fastidious? His mother, down-to-earth? Zohan telling them that he was an Australian Tibetan? His finally telling the truth and their support?
13.The Phantom, his franchise, the TV commercials, going to New York, encountering Zohan, fighting with him – and the special effects for the fight? The revelation that Dalia was his sister? Their banding together, confiding his dreams about selling shoes?
14.The dreams instead of fighting and hatred? A recipe for Israelis and Palestinians to get together? The futility of their fights? Better to live their dreams?
15.The movie jokes, the references to Mel Gibson? The cameos, Chris Rock, John Mc Enroe and his enthusiasm, George Takei and the gays, Mariah Carey and her concert, Henry Winkler and his being a celebrity and being sick?
16.The politically incorrect jokes, the range, the ethnic jokes, the American jokes, the sex jokes, the gay jokes? The cumulative effect of this kind of tongue-in-cheek and raucous spoof in order to make political and humane points?