Monday, June 16, 2008

You Don't Mess With the Zohan, or On Healing The Hurt

Adam Sandler has big aims with You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. As the film goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that his goal for the work is nothing less than bringing about peace in the Middle East.

Picture this: a group of Israeli and Palestinian stereotypes, some of them white Americans in crude brownface, stand airing their differences. It’s pointed out that Americans dislike all of them equally; the crowd erupts into laughter, a character pointing out (in exaggerated raspy
accent), “well, we do all look the same!”

You start to wonder if Sandler, eminent humorist though he is, may be doing this particular cause more harm than good.

Oh, certainly, his depiction of the immigrant experience as a disheartening, humourless grind of nauseating humiliation may give bigots pause before they toss jibes at the next Middle Eastern
expatriate to cross their path; after all, one of those expatriates might be a cocoa-buttered-up Rob Schneider, and if we as a society can agree on one thing, it’s that Rob Schneider is not to be laughed at.

And his choice to give the film’s cast of broad ethnic stereotypes a bizarre mixture of Spartans-esque reference-in-lieu-of-wit faux-humour and lame, outdated cultural callbacks (most of the film’s anti-Semite jabs use Mel Gibson as their punchline, in reference to an event that took place in 2006) is in keeping with the quietly tragic fish-out-of-water tone, which might be charitably dubbed “poor man’s Borat”.

The picture’s constant parade of misery wears on, however: 113 minutes feel like 130, so bereft are they of anything that might conceivably be called “a joke” or “humour”. Sandler and cowriter Judd Apatow have made a brave attempt at cultural change here, but should in the future stick to comedy.

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