You Don't Mess with the Zohan (2008) was getting dreadful reviews, which didn't encourage me to see it on the big screen. And yet sometimes Adam Sandler is just so darned funny, & it seemed to me that the premise for this lowbrow comedy film was daring enough that it would have to have something in its favor.
I mean, it burlesques the terrible eternal conflicts between Israelis & Palestinians, & potentially the most taboo subjects for humor are the funniest.
I further knew that just about every Arab American or Persian American comic that exists, few as they are, was given something to do in this film. And that'd be something! But it wasn't. Ahmed Ahmed was just a random guy in the neighborhood given no jokes or scenes of note.
Similarly Maysoon Zayid's role was restricted to standing behind a cash register offering a knowing gaze. They even mispelled her name in the credits, that's how proud they were to present Maysoon in her first feature film role. It just reeks of Sandler's self-satisfiction to include them, & misplaced ego in forcing muslim talent to kiss his movie-making ass for trivial walk-ons. Random winners of Star Trek walk-on contests have gotten bigger roles.
So at last I decided not to listen to the almost universal disdain of critics & find out for myself. Wasn't it possible they'd refused to see through the taboo & it was actually quite funny?
Alas, no. The critics had it exactly right. The primary sight gag having to do with Zohan kicking someone in the head with both feet & saying "That's for you" as the snappy catch-phrase of the film was used in the trailer, so if you've seen the trailer you've seen the "best" gag.
Zohan the Israeli ultra-super army-commando is on vacation enjoying babes & the beach. The jokes, if there are any, are about nudity & Zohan's pecker. Really. Sandler naked is the main joke. Sandler's accent is ridiculously unrealistic, but that wouldn't matter, if only there was a laugh somewhere.
Then his vacation is interupted by the Mossad's need for Zohan to capture his Palestinian opposite, the Phantom (John Turturo). Zohan fakes letting the Phantom kill him, so he can go to New York city with a new name & pursue his real dream to be a hairdresser (for which dream one lame gay joke gets repeated several times during the film).
It's difficult at first -- difficult, but not funny -- to get recognized in the hairdressing business. That his fashion sense is from the disco era doesn't help. The only person who will hire him is a beautiful young Palestinian woman, Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui) with whom Zohan will eventually fall in love, before finding out she's the Phantom's sister.
His career begins to take off with old ladies who find Zohan studly. He literally offers sensual shampoo, hairstyling, & a trip in the backroom to be pumped anally until the old gals can't walk straight anymore.
In the midst of badly written & childishly sexist shtick, we're asked to find hiliarious the idea that wealthy matrons would line up for a haircut & anal sex that leaves them limping. If only that were the worst joke in the film it might not have been so bad. The very notion is grossly twisted enough to merit a little respect -- if only it had been funny.
As for the Arabic & Persian stand-up comics hidden here & there in the cast, they're denied even one joke each & truly are hidden. There's only one role written for such a comic, & instead of casting someone ethnically appropriate, they get Rob Schneider to do it.
Now there's just not a comic on earth more repulsive & unfunny than Rob Schneider. And to have him play Salim the muslim cabby out for Zohan's life, while appropriately ethnic comics stand in the background with nothing to do, was like casting Katherine Hepburn as the Chinese lead of The Good Earth (1937), or if Cabin in the Sky (1943) had starred Al Jolsen in blackface rather than Eddie Anderson. And I thought this was 2008, not 1943.
So what could've been a daring & offensively hip film making fun of terrorists turned out merely to be sexist & racist drivel. And the worst crime of all, never the least bit funny. So there, Adam Sandler. That's for you.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl