I have been dreading this weekend for months. It’s not the heat, although I wouldn’t have predicted the sudden 95-degree temps in Ohio after a wave of weather in the 60s. Nope. It was the releases of June 6 that had me on edge.
Earlier this year, I predicted that Kung Fu Panda and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan would be two of the worst movies of the summer. Now that I’ve had a chance to sample both films, I will say that if this is the worst this summer has to offer, we’re in good shape. (Of course, most of this optimism comes from the fact that I liked Kung Fu Panda a hell of a lot more than I expected I would… The Zohan… not so much.)
For me, Adam Sandler is a hit-or-miss kind of guy. However, I can usually predict which of his films I’ll like. He makes only three kinds: serious films (like Punch Drunk Love or Reign Over Me), rom coms with Drew Barrymore (like The Wedding Singer or 50 First Dates) and rock-stupid, sophomoric comedies (like Billy Madison or Happy Gilmore).
I tend to split with most critics in that I tend to like the rock-stupid stuff. I still contend that Billy Madison is one of his best films. But if he speaks funny (like the lame Waterboy or the godawful Little Nicky), this is usually a bad sign.
In You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, he speaks a little funny. However, instead of a speech impediment, it’s an Israeli accent. I suppose this helped the movie a bit.
Sandler stars as the Zohan, an Israeli counter-terrorist who fakes his own death so he can move to New York and become a famous hair stylist. While he’s starting his new life, wooing the old and fat lady clientele of a run-down beauty parlor, one of his victims from the past recognizes him and vows to take him out.
Clearly with a premise like this, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan falls in the rock-stupid category. Unfortunately, it’s not as good as some of Sandler’s other rock-stupid. And for as stupid as it is, part of its problem is that it really isn’t stupid enough. Some parts, like the first ten minutes which show the Zohan as a superhuman agent, are hilarious. Others, which involve the Zohan in multiple trysts with definitively un-sexy women, are hard to watch but still funny.
However, in the middle of the film, it loses its edge and tries to become a regular comedy. If the film had been over-the-top throughout, it might have worked. But instead, it settles down at all the wrong places. It’s not that you won’t laugh at the film, but in the down moments, you might just be laughing at the movie’s expense.
The supporting cast is decent enough, but generally wasted for lack of comedy. In particular, Nick Swardson from “Reno: 911” fame, is nothing more than background set dressing with a really bad hairstyle.
Finally, the comedy is a complete misfire in some areas. I’m not Israeli or Palestinian, so a lot of the humor directed at these cultures is pretty much lost on me. And I’m not sure if people from these cultures will laugh at the jokes or be offended.
So while the Zohan might be good for a few laughs, it’s hardly summer blockbuster material.
THE UPSIDE: John Turturro is hilarious as the Zohan’s nemesis.
THE DOWNSIDE: I got really tired of seeing Adam Sandler in short shorts… or nothing at all.
ON THE SIDE: I never knew that humus had so many uses.