Adam Sandler rarely drifts out of familiar territory. When a person attends a Happy Madison production they usually know what they are getting. When I discovered Judd Apatow (Superbad, Knocked Up) co-wrote this with Sandler, I was curious. Joining them is Robert Smigel, creator of TV Funhouse, and I wondered what the outcome of a script by these distinctly different comics would look like.
Turns out it is the same old Adam Sandler film, albeit with a smarter script than we have grown accustomed to over the last few years.
I am an Adam Sandler fan, and have been since he was a featured player on Saturday Night Live. That era of SNL was the only time I religiously watched the show and some of my favorite cast members came out of that era, including Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Chris Farley and Adam Sandler. I bought his comic CD, They’re All Gonna Laugh at You, and listened to it until I could recite almost every sketch on it. His movies were always an event for me, from Billy Madison through Little Nicky, there was not a movie I didn’t enjoy for one reason or another. That is why his recent output has been so disappointing to me.
Mr. Deeds started me on the path of not rushing out to watch Sandler movies anymore. John Turturro was great in it, but the rest just seemed kind of boring. Since that film, only The Longest Yard made me dish out money to see it in the theater because I love football and both Steve Austin and Brian Bosworth were in it. I couldn’t pass that up. Movies like 50 First Dates, Click, and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry didn’t seem to call out to me.
I really needed this movie to make me remember why I loved Adam Sandler so much in the first place.
We start the film on a beach as the Zohan (Sandler) was turning everyone’s heads, whether it was with his strength, quickness, amazing hacky sack skills or bare butt. Yep, we see Adam Sandler’s bare butt a minimum of five times this movie. I guess bare butts are now tame enough to be PG-13? And, yes, I did say amazing hacky sack skills. I guess hacky sack is a huge pastime/sport in Israel and Palestine.
It turns out Zohan is an Israeli anti-terrorist agent and part of the 2000+ year war with Palestine. His arch enemy is the Palestinian terrorist known as The Phantom (Turturro). Zohan is sent to recapture The Phantom, despite capturing him a few months prior, only to have him traded back to Palestine for two Israeli’s and a spy to be named later. As I said earlier, it is the same old Adam Sandler movie. Well, the twist comes with Zohan faking his own death and stowing aboard a plane to the USA, where he dreams of becoming a hairstylist.
The Zohan is an almost superhuman killing machine – with a heart of gold. He only wants to be a hairstylist and find the woman who would be his special one. The movie presents the opportunity for Zohan’s dreams to come true while also carving out a story about enemies living in peace and working together against the ultimate evil of corporate greed. It is a deeper story than I am used to with Sandler, but unlike Chuck and Larry, which uses homosexuality simply for gags, Zohan takes the plight of peace seriously. There are still racial jokes that poke fun at stereotypes, including the casting of Rob Schneider as a Palestinian, but more fun is poked at the people making these racial slurs.
We get many typical Sandler gags. We get the obligatory guest star appearances. Kevin Nealan is a community night watchman who is almost scared of his own shadow. Chris Rock is a cab driver who came to America to achieve his own dreams. Also making appearances are Henry Winkler, Dave Matthews, John McEnroe, George Takei, Kevin James and a pop-diva I won’t mention because I found it humorous when she showed up for no real reason. Aside from The Phantom, Zohan must face opposition from a vindictive cab driver named Salim (Schneider) and an evil business tycoon named Walbridge (Buffer). I think Michael Buffer as the ultimate bad guy was just brilliant and he turns in an over-the-top performance that rivals most comic villains.
The film also has the random reoccurring gags that Sandler movies are known for. There are random dance sequences that materialize from nowhere. The hacky sack games take a life of their own that makes you question WTF?. The reoccurring use of hummus (“a very tasty diarrhea type substance”) takes it a step further than it should have, but the uses of it were disgusting in the best ways possible. Dave Matthews plays a racist redneck with a great admiration of Mel Gibson. When The Phantom is preparing to face off with Zohan, he gets his own Rocky montage. These gags are rapid fire and never let up.
Sandler is in top form as Zohan, a character who is unlike his normal man-child persona, but instead is a strong and determined character. John Turturro is amazing, par-for-course considering his past characters in Sandler movies. Even Rob Schneider is tolerable, and thank God he never says “You can do it” even once.
You Don’t Mess with the Zohan is the best Adam Sandler movie since Big Daddy. It has all the gags his fans could ever want – his true talent aside from styling hair and fighting is having sex with older women who need all the love and attention they can get – but it also carries a real message that doesn’t deter from the comedy but adds to it. The movie seems to move Sandler back into the adult humor I love so much in Happy Gilmore and Waterboy, instead of the watered down family-style humor he has been drifting into lately. This is the best comedy I have seen this year and is a return to form for Adam Sandler. Color me impressed.