For those who struggle with religious faith, one question yet gnaws: How can there be a God who is all-knowing, all-powerful and all-good, but who still allows Adam Sandler movies to exist?
It’s nearly irreconcilable. If anything, Sandler’s yearly offerings seem to be nearly definitive proof that we are descended from lower apes and that, perhaps, evolutionary scientists have been hasty in delineating a split between us and our simian siblings.
But stupidity is a strange thing. As I say in the review of the French comedy OSS 177: Cairo, Nest of Spies (page 47), no one does stupid like Americans. I mean that as a sincere compliment. For, in movies such as Zoolander or Austin Powers, or club songs with asinine, ass-obsessed lyrics, sometimes stupidity lets us relax. Sometimes it helps us let go of the neurotic loops, the endless option-weighing and self-consciousness that occupies our turbulent minds.
Sometimes infantile humor lets us experience the in-the-moment joyfulness of childhood for a time, if only for a time.
But, as with anything else, there is such thing as going too far. Such is the case for Sandler’s newest, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, a movie in which stupidity is simply beyond the pale. Beginning encouragingly with a bit of charming stupid-funny, YDMWTZ rapidly disintegrates into blank-staring, brain-cell-destroying inanity, alighting, occasionally, on the rarest flowers of slap-yourself-on-the-forehead-because-it’s-so-stupid funny and then, about 12 minutes into the two-hour-long slog, it settles into illimitably stupefying, comatose-inducing and transcendentally dimwitted, anti-funny.
Sandler, who co-wrote the script for YDMWTZ with comedy omnipresence Judd Apatow and Saturday Night Live scribe Robert Smigel, also stars as the titular Zohan. Zohan is a ladies’ man with an impressive Jew-pubic-fro puffed package and a disco-dance lover whose hip thrusts would make Salt ’n’ Pepa envious. He is also an elite Israeli counter-terrorism agent with preternatural coordination and the ability to catch flying fish between the fleshy cheeks of his buttocks. He lives with his parents and, at night, as he cradles his 1980s Paul Mitchell catalogue, Zohan dreams of being a hair stylist.
So, during a battle with his arch-nemesis, Palestinian terrorist The Phantom (John Turturro in brown-face), Zohan fakes his own death and stows away with a pair of dogs on a plane headed for New York. He takes their names, Scrappy and Coco, as his own, and gives them a stylish trim in return.
Once in New York, Scrappy Coco, whose accent is Mexican-Dracula prefixed by loogie-hawks, claims to be of Australian/Mount Everest descent and finds fame for his coiffeurs. This is mostly because Scrappy Coco/Zohan, a man whose shirts are worn half-unbuttoned but whose sexual mores are completely uninhibited, not only gives his elderly female clientele retro-style cuts, he also gives them doggie-style fucks—had in the storeroom after some styling-product-lubricated, sexual-harassment foreplay.
And so it goes from there, with the expected plot points (romance between Zohan and his Palestinian boss, battle with a taxicab-driving sleeper cell and that ’80s staple, the nefarious gentrifying landlord) and a few surprises (a Middle Eastern hacky sack tournament, hacky sack with a cat, hummus on everything).
Certainly there is a clichéd, though somewhat admirable, attempt by Sandler and his cohorts to make the intractable, nihilism-inspiring Israeli/Palestinian conflict seem silly and hopeful through jokes that both play on, and make fun of, the stereotypes that surround the cultures. But when you’re not laughing—which is a significant portion of the time—there is just that much more time to remember that this is really about making a bunch of money, that people will really learn nothing from this and that the fighting will go on and on and on.
You Don’t Mess With The Zohan
Directed by Dennis Dugan and written by Adam Sandler, Robert Smigel and Judd Apatow
With Adam Sandler, John Turturro, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Nick Swardson and Lainie Kazan
Dreamcatcher, Regal Stadium 14, 113 min., PG-13