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

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

113 min

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

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