You know, sometimes I just don't understand what the heck is going through Adam Sandler's head. He's a funny guy with natural charisma and, I would guess, a reasonable level of intelligence. So why does he feel compelled to write and produce films of such appallingly low quality? It worked with his initial efforts, Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore. Those two films defied any sense of logical criticism. They were sloppy, yet contained a maniacal sense of anarchic glee. He seemed thrilled at what he was getting away with. Yet, since the release of those films over a decade ago, he has continued to crank out by-the-numbers mediocrity that lacks any feeling of comic discovery.
It is my unfortunate duty now to inform you that his latest, You Don't Mess With The Zohan, is by far his most wretchedly awful film to date. Sandler's character this time, a Mossad agent who dreams of being a hairdresser, would probably fill a lame Saturday Night Live skit, but stretched to over 100 minutes is akin to Chinese water torture.
Zohan isn't any normal secret agent; he's a walking caricature of crass Middle Eastern stereotypes and snickering vulgarity. With a Wham!-inspired haircut and a penchant for shtupping elderly women, he finds employment at a small salon run by the sweet, yet blank, Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui), a Palestinian woman with no patience for Zohan's sexism. As can be predicted, despite their antagonistic relationship, they soon are yearning to "make the bam-boom". Their insipid love story intermingles with a laugh-free subplot featuring Zohan's nemesis the Phantom (John Turturro) and a hapless Arab cab-driver (Rob Schneider, ladies and gentlemen...) ineptly planning murder attempts.
Now, racial stereotyping and crude humor can be used to great comic effect in the proper hands. The makers of Borat toed the line brilliantly, delivering great vulgar hilarity mixed with social commentary. You Don't Mess With The Zohan is not even in the same time zone, much less ballpark. The film is amazingly hostile and mean-spirited, mocking its targets with unfiltered scorn for the majority of the running time, yet tacking on a "we're all the same" message at the end. It's like the school-yard bully who beats the snot out of you all semester but wishes you a good summer at when vacation time rolls around. Why did no one involved in this debacle pull Sandler aside and gently suggest that this material was unfilmable? Also concerning is the amount of animal abuse presented for cheap laughs. There is a particularly soul-killing scene featuring Zohan and two friends playing hacky-sack with a cat. Now, a good writer would use this undeniably objectionable act as a springboard to a larger pay-off. That would redeem the bad taste and warrant the scene's inclusion. Not here however, where the only apparent joke is that a trio of grown men are kicking the stuffing out of a helpless animal.
What is almost fascinating about Zohan is how little interest the screen-writers have in their own story. New story lines are launched at random to replace the ones running out of gas. I couldn't believe that the introduction of an evil land-developer to the film occurred near the end of the second act. It would seem that writers' Sandler, Judd Apatow, and Robert Smigel knew that their material was limited and hoped that by padding it liberally, no one would notice. Hence, the heavy helping of crotch close-ups, homophobia, hummus jokes, and dry humping present. As well, the endless cameos come off as desperate and pointless, although it is amusing that Mariah Carey has finally found a fitting companion piece for Glitter.
To call You Don't Mess With The Zohan a misfire is a grand understatement. It's a dreary trudge through migraine-inducing territory that is all the more unforgivable considering the level of talent involved. There's an old adage that it takes true skill and artistry to create a truly horrific film, as hacks will only produce bland mediocrity. Well, Zohan is a colossal achievement, a film that will receive endless mentions on "Worst of 2008" lists, and the rants of legions of angry ticket-buyers. With that said though, Sandler may have inadvertently found a point of agreement for Israelis and Palestinians. I think that both sides would agree that You Don't Mess With The Zohan flat-out SUCKS!