Jun 19, 2008

Movie Review: You Don’t Mess With the Zohan

This will be a short review because You Don’t Mess With the Zohan barely even merits coverage on a spy blog. In fact, it’s a little questionable whether it’s even a spy movie at all. Despite being initially pitched as a comedy about a top Mossad agent who fakes his death to become a New York City hairdresser (a premise reiterated by co-writer Judd Apatow as recently as a week before its opening), I noticed nary a mention of the Mossad. Zohan seems to be more of a counter-terrorist soldier, but he still fits the general indestructibility of a Bondian super-spy, and does get to do a little undercover work. The opening chase in Israel, in which Adam Sandler’s surprisingly buff Zohan takes on John Turturro’s surprisingly amiable Palestinian terrorist the Phantom, generates some good, over-the-top sight gags as it parodies similar chases in Bourne and Bond movies. The sequence quickly establishes the very, very silly tone that will carry the entire film.

Once Sandler’s character reaches New York, there’s little mention of his former spy life for the entire middle of the movie, although he occasionally relies on his matchless fighting skills to take on the likes of obnoxious drivers or neighborhood ruffians. Mainly, though, the focus of the second act is on his hairdressing career (based exclusively on 1980s Paul Mitchell styles) and his gigolo career, wherein he has sex with a succession of old ladies. Indeed, both of Sandler’s usual fetishes, grannies and enormous penises, are driven into the ground without ever becoming remotely funny or even really being made into jokes. They’re just there, each in high quantities and often together.

The third act sees the Phantom coming to New York for a rematch with Zohan, whose identity has been exposed. Instead of bringing together the first two acts cohesively, though, it ends up going a completely different direction (as the two of them team up to fight an evil real estate mogul played by a wrestling announcer) so that all three acts feel completely disparate. Act 3 concerns itself with solving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict once and for all, and showing both sides that the real enemy is hillbillies. I think. There is no reprisal of the opening spy spoofery.

Basically, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan is an Adam Sandler movie, which is a genre unto itself comprising all of the actor’s self-produced, post Happy Gilmore/Billy Madison career. And, like most Sandler movies, it does have its funny moments amidst the flat old lady gags. If you like that stuff, you’ll like this. If not, stay away... and feel no need to see it as a spy movie!

For a harsher, but valid, viewpoint, check out this blog.

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