Friday, 27 March 2009

You Don't Mess with the Zohan

Lowdown: The Arab-Israeli conflict solved through an Israeli superhero and some humus.
Adam Sandler's got talent. The talent to make money off some silly films, but also the acting talent on display in films such as Punch Drunk Love. Sadly, the majority of Sandler's work falls under the first category, and You Don't Mess with the Zohan (or just Zohan in short) certainly belongs to that folder, too.
Zohan the film follows a character called Zohan (portrayed by Sandler). Zohan the character is an Israeli commando that is literarily a superhero: he's faster than a speeding plane, he stops bullets with his teeth, and he's got a huge dick; the ultimate Israeli weapon against the Arab terrorists menacing the country. Only that Zohan is tired of fighting; he wants his peace. So he smuggles himself to New York and attempts a go at his dream career - being a hairstylist. Stuck in eighties style, Zohan doesn't fair to well, and seems destined to rot in an Israeli run electronics shop selling overpriced crap to innocent Americans like many other Israelis coming to fulfill the American dream before him.
Zohan does, however, get his break at a hairstyle place run by an attractive Palestinian immigrant on the Arab side of the street (reality according to Zohan, it seems, is but a street with two sides). He starts as an apprentice but his commando talents allow him to make enough of an impression. In no time he establishes a reputation with all the old ladies, for whom he does a haircut with an intercourse thrown in as a bonus. Yet Zohan is plagued by his past, and when some Arabs he has confronted in his past life show up (John Turturro and Rob Schneider, who do a nice job of their role - especially the former) the stage is set for a showdown. You can rest assured that by the end of it all both sides recognize they have much more in common than they thought, and they all live happily ever after to eat their humus in peace.
There are some unique points to Zohan the film. It's got some good jokes going for it for a start. Then there are a lot of authentic Israelism to it: many things about Zohan the character, including his accent and culinary preferences, are very much there. The entire "Israeli gone to New York" story is also quite authentically portrayed, and there is also enough Hebrew thrown about for non Hebrew speakers to potentially miss out on too many things. Yet, in typical Sandler style, this whole Israeli thing is taken way too far on the silly side of the scale, especially in the sex department and in the meaningless talk department.
Indeed, the premises of showing how Arabs and Israelis can work together doing mundane stuff like haircuts is a good one. Supporting it through the use of genuine real life Arab comedians who take central roles in the film is also very good. So why did they have to spoil it all by throwing way too many jokes about having sex with old ladies, especially when these jokes are not that funny to begin with? And why do they repeat them so many times? It's not like I'm asking for political correctness; I'm just asking for quality control. It all becomes too hard to take when this silliness is added to the schmaltz that comes with genuinely suggesting Israelis and Arabs can just forget everything that had happened and live happily ever after.
Best scene: The scenes where Zohan displays his superhero skills are nice; they sort of take you by surprise because the film appears too serious at first for comics style silliness. But then they repeat the same themes again and again to ruin a good joke.
Technical assessment: The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack and the picture are very ordinary, with just the extra resolution telling you this is more than a DVD. The Blu-ray does offer an extended version, adding some scenes featuring Sandler nudity (or are they in the original version too?), but the beach portrayed in that scene looks nothing like anything Israel has to offer.
Overall: Despite the promising framework Zohan is too silly for its own good. 2.5 out of 5 stars. And P.S: There is no such name as "Zohan"; at least not yet.

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