You May Now Mess with the Zohan

You May Now Mess with the Zohan

Seeing Happy Madison crop up at the beginning of any film makes me recall a time when those words donned basement television sets, obscured by smoke and an over zealous comedic zeal that, while still persisting today, might only be tempered with time. Understanding and appreciating dumb comedy might be present in one’s life and then pass without that moment being all too obvious. And watching this year old Adam Sandler vehicle, I’ve got to wonder if that time has moved beyond me or I it. One can still laugh readily at the bad accents, ridiculous costumes and easily guessed at plot – but You Don’t Mess with the Zohan could have had a bit more.

Using this farcical comedy about a one time Mossad assassin lured away from Israel by a life in America and the prospect of working for thee Paul Mitchell, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan clearly attempts to make some cultural and religious comments along the way. While Hollywood is generally perceived to be run at the behest of some maniacal Jewish cabal, the folks on screen don’t generally take on characteristics overtly tied to the religion. There haven’t been – and probably won’t be - too many films focused upon a Jewish protagonist. And for good reason. Most assuredly, Zohan has been referred to as a Zionist plot to disengage Arabs and Muslims from a genuine discussion about the future of the Middle East. Despite the repeated invocation of nonviolence on the part of Sandler’s character, in the end, violence is what saves the day. Any posturing aside, it’s clear where the lead actor’s allegiances lie. That of course shouldn’t come as a surprise and even with it’s less than mature look at inter-religious relations and the like, the film does attempt a social commentary not frequently broached in commercial fair such as this.

All the political platitudes aside, Zohan delivers at least sporadic comedy amidst the haze of politicized film making. Beginning with his beach vacation, Sandler’s character catches a fish between his cheeks (yes, those cheeks) before being recalled to duty. It’s a pretty early indication of the film’s level of seriousness. And as Zohan makes his way to New York after having his sexuality called into question by his father – Shelley Berman, who also plays Larry David’s father on Curb Your Enthusiasm – the frequency in which Sandler’s character is dismissed by others increases. From being laughed out of job interview after job interview, the well trained spy proves that changing one’s life can be a difficult task as he once even puts an uncooperative child to sleep by using some pressure point to the dismay of his interviewer.

Zohan, though, has its comedy weighted down by politics and vice versa. There seems to be no proper balance here. And with the inclusion of a contrite love story – even if it involves Emmanuelle Chriqui as Dalia Hakbarah – the script, with an early assist from Judd Apatow, doesn’t seem to be able to find some workable ground to stand upon.