You Don’t Mess with the Zohan

Readers, I have a confession to make; for about ten years, I’ve had a deep affection for Adam Sandler movies.

I once watched “The Waterboy” on a particularly awful day, and it made me feel better, and ever since then, I’ve never looked down on the guy. He’s funny, and while he does make crap movies, they are funny when done right (“Happy Gilmore” and “The Waterboy” being two stupid-fun highlights).

So, when I wanted a movie that was funny and stupid (and “Year One” wasn’t available), I turned to “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.”

I’m not really sure what to say about this flick.

Sandler plays an Israeli supersoldier, the Zohan, who can effortlessly kill enemies, but whose real dream is to go to America and cut hair. After his number one enemy, Phantom (John Turturro) tries to kill him, he lets the world think he’s dead so he’s free to live his dream.

This early part is really well done; it’s over-the-top absurd badassery and it totally works. Zohan’s soldier skills are as ludicrous as they are funny, and his early days in a salon are fun fish-out-of water stuff.

For the first hour of the film, I was happy and enjoying the ride. Unfortunately, that second hour had to come along and frak everything up.

For starters, there really was no need for this movie to be two hours long; 80-90 minutes would have been enough to enjoy the company of these zany folks and walk away smiling. More is clearly less in this case, but that’s not all the source of my unease with the film.

The writers, Sandler, Robert Smigel and Judd Apatow, clearly have something to say about the state of affairs between Israel and Palestine, but what isn’t clear is why they went there. In  the beginning, Zohan gets into a philosophical debate with a Palestinian soldier that is really both funny and true; the situation over there isn’t cut and dry, and to its credit, the movie doesn’t automatically paint the Palestinians as straight-up evil.

 Good on them, but this willingness to address the issue turns “Zohan” from a stupid-fun film into a gooey-message film with the overly simplistic moral of “Hey, we’re the same. Can’t we all just get along?” It’s just a dumb movie, I know, but it feels like “Zohan” moralizes where it shouldn’t (telling us how alike the Israelis and Palestinians are) and ignores it where it should (Phantom, a terrorist, gets off a bit easy in my book). Why open that door at all if you’re not going to deal with it properly?

“Zohan” is a great example of why simplicity is often best; if you’re not willing to dive into the heavy moral issues with both feet, stay out of that pool and bring on the dumb jokes. It could have been a much better movie had that been the case.

“You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” (2007)

Directed by Dennis Dugan

Written by Adam Sandler, Robert Smigel and Judd Apatow

Starring: Adam Sandler (The Zohan)

John Turturro (Phantom)