Adam Sandler comedies are definitely not to everybody's tastes, but if you like him, his movies seldom fail to deliver. Ever since Happy Gilmore - some 12 years ago - he's come up with at least a dozen good movies, varying from the crazy-funny outright comedies like Mr Deeds, to the sweet romantic comedies like 50 First Dates, and even the slightly more serious affairs like Spanglish. Although he is superb at his angry-man style of comedy, over the years he's had a couple of opportunities to show some range - earlier in P.T. Anderson's vastly underrated Punch Drunk Love and more recently alongside Don Cheadle in the drama Reign Over Me. Last year's I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry apparently received a mixed reception - over its close-to-the-edge humour - were the jokes painfully homophobic or just plainly funny? Now, Sandler takes on the Israel/Palestine conflict in You Don't Mess with the Zohan.
Zohan is the best of the best of the best, an Israeli counter-terrorist one-man-army who they pull off vacation in order to go on a covert operation to recapture his age-old adversary, the Palestinian 'Phantom'. But, despite his skills and popularity with the women, all Zohan truly dreams of is escaping to America to become a hairdresser. Faking his own death, Zohan goes chasing his dream, but finds a lot more than he bargained for, proving himself in a tiny corner salon run by a Palestinian girl but never managing to fully escape his military past.
It's tough to find comedies these days that are pretty consistently funny across their runtime - many have laugh-out-loud moments, but don't really hold together. The work of Judd Apatow (and partner-in-crime, Seth Rogen) is fairly reliable on this level, providing superior, smart humour in every one of their productions - from Knocked Up to Superbad. Sandler comedies have also suffered from not always being consistently funny - only his best maintain their humour throughout, with many suffering from lull moments. In writing terms, the collaboration of Sandler and Apatow gave me high hopes - and when I saw the trailer, I had even greater expectations. Believe me, I was not disappointed.
Zohan, at nearly two hours in length (closer to the mark with the Unrated cut), has to work pretty hard to keep up the laughs for its whole runtime, but does a pretty damn good job. Providing consistent action-comedy for its duration, it marks one of the best Sandler films, and one of the best of its kind. Relying on eccentricity, exaggeration, whilst cashing in on clichés and almost surreal depiction of cultural stereotypes, it is a fantastic comedy. Whether it be the ludicrous hummus jokes, the hilarious way he practices hairdressing, his open attitude towards sex and violent attitude towards cats, or even the crazy moments where his military training crosses over into his newfound life - to deal with screaming kids or loudmouth suits - there are no dull moments, no wasted time here, the humour will keep you chuckling pretty much throughout, and laughing out loud at all the key moments.
Sandler himself is on top form, his heavy accent, his Hebrew phrases, his unabashed dance moves - he takes it all so seriously yet it is all so very over-the-top. He's done amazingly to embrace the character, with absolutely no shame, and it helps the movie no end to retain its comedic value. It's definitely his baby, the kind of character you only want to see more from, although he does have a couple of decent supporting cast members to help him along - from John Turturro's ludicrous terrorist The Phantom, much better here than he was mocking himself in Transformers, to Rob Schneider, playing another inept terrorist from Zohan's past. Aside from these two, we also get cameo appearances for Kevin 'The King of Queens' James, Kevin 'Weeds' Nealon, Henry 'The Fonz' Winkler and John McEnroe himself, all also Sandler regulars. New to the plot is the beautiful Moroccan chica Emmanuelle Chriqui, who plays the Palestinian girl Zohan is torn up about. Refreshing and naturally magnetic, her salon owner Dalia sparkles in such an underplayed way and I hope to see her in more than just this and Entourage in the near future. They all do well to bring together this great comedy.
You Don't Mess with the Zohan will not disappoint, and with this release we get even get a few more minutes of footage for the Unrated edition (although there's nothing wildly unrated about it). Sure, it's unlikely to be to everybody's tastes (cat-lovers may not like seeing their favourite pet kicked around like a football, those who don't mind will find it hard not to laugh) but it handles some pretty rough topics (the Israel/Palestine conflict) will aplomb, bringing out the funny side to all of it - even if you don't think that's possible. Adam Sandler brings us his best comedy work since the glory days of Happy Gilmore in what is one of the funniest movies of the year. It may not have the acutely witty social observations prevalent in Apatow's usual work, but as surreal over-the-top action-comedy goes, it is outstanding fun, whether as one for the lads or as quite an effective date movie. Highly recommended.
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