You Don’t Mess With the Zohan

Posted on October 7, 2008 at 8:00 am

Somewhere inside this Adam Sandler slacker silliness there is a fierce and provocative little satire trying to get out. Sandler is so busy with his usual shtick that at times it seems that even he hardly notices the subversive political humor bubbling up around him.

Sandler plays Zohan, a top Israeli assassin, who can slaughter terrorists with one hand while he scoops hummus with the other. He is commando as rock star, universally admired and adored by all women. But Zohan dreams of peace and hairdressing. He decides to fake his own death and move to the United States where he can spend his days making hair shiny and silky. Soon he has transformed himself with an 80’s haircut and has a job sweeping up hair in a beauty salon on the Palestinian side of the street in a middle Eastern neighborhood of New York and is happily having sex with all of the elderly patrons and his landlady (all-purpose ethnic hot mama Lainie Kazan).

Comedians most often rely on ineptitude at work or with women to get laughs, but Sandler’s characters are often very successful in both. That leaves only gross-outs and silliness for humor, and that is what Sandler gives us, over and over. Lots of jokes about sex with old ladies (who are all thrilled with his prowess), bare tushes (male and female), the consternation of his landlady’s nerdy son over his mother’s unabashed sexual encounters, the ability to withstand pain, made-up euphemisms for sex, random pop star cameos, and of course one of Sandler’s theme moves — a sharp implement being thrust into the body of someone who feels no pain. We’ve seen most of this before.

But the movie also has moments of surreal humor, some remarkably adept and surprisingly understated political satire, and better roles than usual for Sandler’s frequent co-stars John Turturro and Rob Schneider. Its (almost) even-handed jibes at just about everyone are refreshing. Of course the real bad guy is a white American, but the movie’s notion that this is a place where people may hate and do crazy things but they can all agree on the importance of shiny hair, good Chinese food, and the other things that really matter in life is sweetly hopeful. All the crotch-rubbing and hummus humor feels tired and shrill when we see would-be terrorists put on hold from the bomb-building line, cheerfully reassured by the recorded voice that “we will resume service as soon as negotiations break down” or a bunch of enemies interrupting a confrontation to speculate on the, uh, appeal of Hillary Clinton.

The outrageous stereotyping and stereotype tweaking of characters on the basis of race, culture, religion, and nationality may be softened or even sanitized by the content that falls into the “normally offensive” category, the stereotyping and stereotype tweaking of old ladies (sexually voracious or addled, often both), the constant vulgarity, Sandler’s annoying idea of an accent. Or it may be that it is just a distraction that lets the political satire sneak in under the radar. But this glimpse of something a little more ambitious, a little more substantive adds a level of freshness and interest that is a welcome change from Sandler’s increasingly stale snigger-fests.

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Comedy Satire

18 Replies to “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan”

  1. This film was a major disappointment. Far too many sexual references, banal sexual jokes, tired, tired, same old, same old.

  2. You write and everyone agrees how crude and vulgar this movie is so why don’t you come out and say that it should be rated R and that is inappropriate for kids (which include high schoolers). Why would you want your 14 or even 17 year old kid exposed to this? If it’s inappropriate come out and say it.

  3. ADAM SANDLER COMEDY! duh, it’s a mix of vin diesel/austin powers madness, mixed with rush hour kungfu bit. it’s a happy-madison porduction watch every movie of his b4 this one and you’ll laugh.

  4. TC, by recommending it for mature high schoolers only and telling parents that it is crude and vulgar I am saying that it is inappropriate for kids. But I believe some parents will decide that mature high schoolers will understand and appreciate the political humor and realize that the crude humor is juvenile and not very important. Others who feel as you do that even a 17-year-old should not be exposed to that material will find in my review the information they need to make that choice.

  5. No one else seems to have noticed that this character is a “Borat” rip-off. And not a very good one.

  6. It is true that both Zohan and Borat draw their humor from the effect their cluelessness has on disconcerted Americans. But in other ways they are very different starting with their different ethnic and national origins. Interesting connection!

  7. First, I want to thank you for your reviews. They have been consistently accurate for predicting movie appropriateness for my kids. This one was no exception. You were right on the money and I felt adequately forewarned going in. I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the political humor and feel like I’ve seen enough of Sandler to last me a lifetime.

  8. Wish I would have read this review prior to taking my group to see this PG-13. THIS REALL NEEDED A MORE RESTRICITVE RATING THAN PG-13

  9. I found this comedy over the top funny for his time in Isreal, but when he began his sexual antics with the elderly and his buddies mom, I found this movie to be a bore. His interaction with his rival assassin was also stupid. This definitely should have been rated “R” for perverse sexual themes. It creaped out my 16 year old and me as well. My two cents worth!

  10. This is the first movie that I have gotten up and left in a long time. I thought it was disgusting. You scored a direct hit, I only wish I had read your comments before I wasted my time and money on such trash. It is sad that he feels that he has to be so vulgar to get a laugh. He is really sick. I thought that his movie Click was pretty good however he almost ruined that one too with his dog humping the stuffed animal throughout the movie. It is true what they say, if at first you don’t succeed try, try again.

  11. It’s like my mom always used to say — it’s a failure of imagination to try to call something comic just because it is vulgar. I have often said Sandler is the laziest man in show business, but as long as people keep buying tickets he will keep making pitifully disgusting movies.

  12. We got up and left this movie. It was crude and not funny at all. We usually enjoy Adam Sandler. This should have been rated “R”. It is definitely not appropriate for children. The PG13 rating was very misleading. Parents should be warned. I am surprised that this site rates it with a “B-“. It was terrible.

  13. I was embarrassed by this movie, and frankly disgusted that it was rated PG 13. Something is very wrong with the rating system.
    Yes, it was funny. But the crotch shots were unnecessary and gross. There is no way a 13 year old should be at this movie – or 14, 15, 16, etc. The movie would have been just as funny without the closeups of whatever was stuffed in Sandler’s crotch, especially when it was moving. The plot could have been the same without the vulgar images.
    Yes, kids know about sex. No, this may not make them go out and have sex. But trivializing sex as this movie – and many others – does sends the wrong message. It all adds up to making them think sex is ok and to more sexual behavior.
    A parent taking a kid to this sends the message that the parents think it’s ok to be vulgar and trivialize sex, and rating it PG-13 sends the message that society thinks it’s ok.

  14. Nell wrote, “I have often said Sandler is the laziest man in show business, but as long as people keep buying tickets he will keep making pitifully disgusting movies.”
    I cannot agree more. But when someone actuall makes him work he can be amazing. It is too bad this movie was more foolish than clever – there was potential unrealized. I think the same can be said for Sandler. I look for the day when he is asked to play something fairly serious – not humorless, but with heft and bones. I think he would surprise himself more than anyone else.
    As they used to say on all my report cards, “Lacks motivation. Great potential but needs to work up to abilities.”

  15. Even the previews of this movie make me want to walk out! During its theatrical release, it occured to me that Sandler was trying to do his own version of “Borat,” and I still think that was in the back of his mind.
    Like Jerry Lewis, I find most of Sandler’s comedy unfunny and insulting to the intelligence, but I think he is a good dramatic actor. Someone should tell him he isn’t very funny. But, I gather he doesn’t really care about public opinion.

  16. Let me state I’m a grown adult with a child and like all kinds of comedy. Annie Hall, LA Story, Caddyshack, Night at the Opera, etc. I laughed pretty much through this entire movie. I think it’s Sandler’s best work since Wedding Singer though 50 First Dates is a close second. Of course I didn’t go into the movie for any moral message or any message at all. One poster wrote “trivializing sex as this movie … sends the wrong message”. Stabbing yourself in the leg with a pair of scissors is the wrong message too but I can’t say I took it seriously when Sandler’s character did it. As for the (implied) sex in this film- it’s actually pretty sweet. The character never belittles his psrtners and doesn’t discriminate against the things women often find sexually discriminitory- namely age. Here the character says older women are beautiful and should enjoy sex just like the rest of the world. Yes, the sexual situations are absurd but the absurdity IS the heart of the humor. No one goes in for a haircut and a hippy-hippy-disco-hum-dinger, though a few posters here sure could use one.

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