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Mossad agent quits and falls for palestinian in comedy

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You Don't Mess with Zohan: Sandler all the way

Jun 06, 2008 04:30 AM
Philip Marchand
Movie Critic

Adam Sandler, who has proven many times that he can do obnoxious, comes across as sweet natured in this latest comedy, about an ultra-tough Mossad agent who fakes his death so he can pursue his dream, which is to go to New York City and become a hairstylist.

For those moviegoers with no prior knowledge of Sandler, I should point out that "ultra-tough" doesn't mean Rambo. Rambo is a gritty portrait of realism compared to Sandler's character.

What his character is about is the slapstick violence of old Popeye cartoons, where the sailor eats his spinach and then sends his enemies flying. You like slapstick, the more tasteless the better? You'll love the first scene of the movie when Zohan plays a game of Hacky Sack and catches the foot bag in the cleavage of his buttocks.

The influence of co-writer Judd Apatow, a producer who seems to have a deft touch with comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up is nowhere in evidence in this movie. It's Sandler all the way.

That means restraint is an almost non-existent commodity. Restraint is an early scene when Zohan breaks the news of his hairstyling ambitions to his parents, and they laugh genially and call him a "faygala" (male homosexual).

Zohan is undaunted. "It's pleasant, it's peaceful and nobody gets hurt," he says, quite reasonably, of his new vocation.

He then flies to New York City and ends up working in a small hair salon owned by Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui), a beautiful Palestinian. Complications ensue when an unscrupulous Donald Trump-like real estate developer tries to seize the property for his new mall, at the same time as Zohan's arch-enemy, the Palestinian "Phantom" (John Turturro), arrives in New York to rub Zohan out.

As in previous Sandler movies, the hero successfully wards off his enemies and gets the girl. That's a technicality.

The real business of the movie is getting laughs through any means necessary. At one point, there's an overhead shot of a taxi disgorging an endless number of passengers a variation of the old circus gag of 20 clowns climbing out of a Volkswagen. The routine, completely unrelated to the plot, evidently still works the audience at the screening I attended certainly got a laugh out of it.

There's verbal humour. "Are you bionic?" a bystander asks after Zohan does his post-spinach Popeye routine on a foe. "No, no," Zohan replies, "I only like girls."

There's parody, as when the Phantom, to the Rocky theme song, punches a side of beef actually, a live cow, I presume CGI-generated. But the biggest source of humour in the movie comes from an oral fixation that would curl the hair on Freud's beard.

A lot of this fixation, for some reason, centres on hummus, defined by one character as "a very tasty, diarrhea-like substance." That perfectly good foodstuff is put to revolting uses.

Zohan also employs his mouth in ingenious ways in the hair salon the standing joke of the movie is that Zohan provides sexual gratification as well as hairstyling to the elderly female clientele. A trick that he does with his mouth and hair conditioner makes me gag just to think about it.

Sandler's job, apart from pulling off these capers with aplomb, is doing a song and dance with aspirates part of his Middle Eastern accent and to say things, with doe-eyed sincerity, such as, "You are special one. I will be only steef for you." The object of his affections responds, "What is `steef'?" Zohan says something else funny in response to that, but I've forgotten what.

The most interesting aspect of the movie is the message that the solution for ancient ethnic hatreds is for everybody to move to America and hustle.

"Here in America, we're the same," an Israeli immigrant says to a Palestinian. "We're just people trying to get jobs." A Palestinian terrorist signals his conversion to peace by confessing to Zohan that he really wants to be a shoe salesman. "I love shoes," he says, in a thrilling whisper.

There's a lot to be said for consumerism as a salve for historic wounds. Of course, there's also a drawback to our free market ways we get shoes made in China and movies like You Don't Mess with the Zohan.

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