Don’t mess with the Middle East
Adam Sandler has some ideas about the Arab-Israeli conflict in this daft comedy, says Donald Clarke YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN Directed by Dennis Dugan. Starring Adam Sandler, John Turturro, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Nick Swardson, Rob Schneider, Lanie Kazan
15A cert, gen release, WHATEVER else you might have to say about Adam Sandler films (and I bet you say plenty), you have to admit that they usually revolve around a neat central premise that permits convenient summary. An idiot is good at golf. An idiot finds a remote control that affects real life. The devil’s son, an idiot, comes to earth.
Indeed, it has always been reassuringly easily to accommodate the essential elements of a Sandler movie in a short sentence. “Let’s not go and see that film in which an idiot has to marry his best buddy.” That sort of thing.
All of which evasion leads us to the deeply peculiar You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. The film, co-written by the tireless Judd Apatow, finds Sandler playing Zohan Dvir, an idiot in the Israeli secret service, who, to the dismay of his conservative parents, harbours a desire to become a hairdresser.
Following his latest punch-up with John Turturro’s Arab terrorist, Zohan fakes his death and makes his way to New York City, where he secures a job in a Palestinian-run boutique. While avoiding the attentions of his enemies, Zohan sets about romancing every old lady in the outer boroughs and securing reconciliation between the Jewish and Arab communities.
Sorry? What’s that you say? Given the (often puzzling) success of their movies, Apatow and Sandler could probably receive finance for a project in which the star plays a talking cowpat, but the obscurity and plain nuttiness of this enterprise fairly makes the brain buzz.
The opening sections of the film seek to satirise the tastes and mores of contemporary Israel. Zohan, a highly successful operative despite his dimness, bows to nobody in his devotion to hummus and positively swoons if offered an erotically shaped bottle of an orange mineral named Fizzy-Bubbeleh.
One can’t help but wonder who these sections are intended to amuse. Citizens of Israel will, surely, balk at being depicted as reactionary vulgarians, whereas – a few veterans of holidays to Tel Aviv aside – the bulk of Sandler’s core audience will find itself ill-equipped to assess the accuracy of the caricatures.
When the picture moves to New York it does settle down into a more manageable, more familiar rhythm, but the looming sense that the film-makers are intending to Say Something Important also puts a drag on the lowbrow yucks.
No film that features quite so many jokes about a man with a flared mullet having sex with ladies old enough to be his grandmother is going to be easily confused with Schindler’s List. There is, however, little doubt that Sandler and his co-conspirators see You Don’t Mess with the Zohan as their contribution to the continuing quest for peace in the Middle East. “They’ve been fighting for 2,000 years. It can’t go on much longer,” Zohan’s mum remarks.
The film’s ultimate lesson could be summarised thus: if we all lived together in peace, then in peace we would all together live. After various ructions, the Jewish citizens of Zohan’s locale (few of whom favour scary religious orthodoxy) and their Palestinian neighbours (who, again, all shun the more severe extremes of their religion) realise that, to paraphrase Churchill, jaw-jaw is still better than war-war.
The catalyst for harmony is America. Freed from the petty rivalries of their homeland, the former rivals are allowed space and freedom to love one another. After those worrisome two millennia, Adam Sandler offers a one-word imperative that will bring concord to the peoples of the desert: relocate. Just move to Brooklyn and everything will be fine.
The film’s fatuous approach to politics – and its tolerance of one more racially stereotyped performance from Rob Schneider – would be forgivable if it managed to raise the odd laugh. But, unsurprisingly and dispiritingly, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan proves to be about as funny as the Six Day War.
If you think that reference is in bad taste, then I don’t recommend you see this movie.
Enemy comic combatant: John Turturro in You Don’t Mess with the Zohan