Saturday, June 7, 2008

From the Archive: "You Don't Mess With The Zohan" Film Review

Film Rating: C-

Welcome to The Archive, a comprehensive collection of reviews dating back to 2007, originally written for The Denver Post’s YourHub.Com website and print edition!  In the archive, you’ll find hundreds of movie, DVD, Blu-Ray, and TV reviews, along with other special features.  You can access the complete Archive Collection by clicking here, and read about the archive project by clicking here. 

Continue reading after the jump to access my original review of “You Don't Mess With the Zohan.”

From the Jonathan R. Lack Review Archives:
“You Don't Mess
With the Zohan”
Originally published June 7th, 2008

Early on in You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, Adam Sandler’s newest creation, Zohan Dvir, lies on his bed, weeping as he exclaims “I just want to make people silky smooth!”  Zohan uses the phrase quite often throughout the film; he aspires to become a hair stylist, and learned the term “silky smooth” in a Paul Mitchell catalogue from the 80’s.  Zohan is so devoted to the art of hair care that he becomes a loveable character early in the film; this is good.  Without that quality, this film would be nothing.

Adam Sandler will never be regarded as a genius comedian, and its true that his best work was probably on Saturday Night Live; however, I love some of his older films, such as Happy Gilmore and Mr. Deeds, but his films over the past five or six years have been, if not terrible, then entirely forgettable.  Click and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry are fairly awful movies, mostly due to their utter lack of originality.

Sandler’s greatest skill has always come from his ability to create loveable characters that are fun to root for, and that the greatest strength of his new film.  Zohan is an Israeli counter-terrorist---and has seemingly superhuman abilities.  He is a one man army, but he grows tired of all the fighting and decides he wants to move to America and practice hair care.  He fakes his own death, gives himself a haircut, and smuggles himself into the country, getting a job at a Salon in the middle-eastern inhabited neighborhood of New York. 

The best part about the movie is Zohan himself; Sandler probably won’t be remembered as a character actor, but he could be a great one if he wanted to be.  Zohan is definitely his most outrageous, original character; sporting a hilarious accent, throwing around funny words and able to beat up three guys in the blink of an eye, Zohan is quite the character.  Taking an Israeli counter-terrorist with god-like abilities and putting him in a hair salon is such a great, original premise, that it seems like a guarantee for great comedy.

Sadly, that’s not the case.  The film can be broken into three acts; the first, where Zohan fakes his death and comes to America, is fast-paced and hilarious.  There’s a very inspired scene where Zohan breaks into a Palestinian base to capture “The Phantom” (played excellently, as always, by Jon Tuturro).  Zohan breaks through walls, breaks a gun into tiny pieces, and swims in a lake with the speed of a motorboat.  The sight gags are hilarious, and the awesome premise is set up very well.

The second act sees Zohan arriving in New York and achieving his dream of becoming a hair stylist.  This second act, as I would define it, takes up a good hour of the film, and the quality is hit-and-miss, at best.  The film wanders aimlessly for a chunk of time while Zohan tries to find a place that will give him a hair-cutting job.  When he does get the job, the film goes way over the top.  Instead of just giving stylish haircuts, he takes his clients (all of which are older women) into the back room to make “the bang-boom,” as Zohan would say.

Not only is this method of hair care over the top, it isn’t in line with the character as established in the first act.  Zohan doesn’t seem like a sex-crazed maniac; he’s a guy with a passion for hair.  Instead, his libido takes over and rules the movie for a good chunk of time.  The second act has plenty of great jokes scattered throughout, but they rest around some gags ranging from mediocre to awful.

The third act of the film sees The Phantom coming to New York to finish off Zohan, while a corporate mogul tries to bring their evil plan to fruition.  The final thirty minutes of the movie are the best part; Zohan’s libido calms down and his passion is for his friends and his new life.  There’s a good little message about fighting based on race thrown into the finale, and everything wraps up nicely. 

Zohan is easily Sandler’s best film since Anger Management in 2003, but the movie is still seriously flawed.  Sex jokes can be funny, but for a large chunk of time in the middle of the film, that’s the only kind of joke we get.  The film is best when it showcases Zohan’s superhuman abilities, contrasted with his desire to make the world “silky smooth.” 

Zohan is the only memorable character in the movie, though Jon Tuturro’s Phantom is hilarious as well.  The rest of the characters are pretty standard fare for a comedy, and because of this, you get the strong feeling of a Saturday Night Live sketch filled out to two hours.  There’s no doubt that the premise is more suited for a string of SNL sketches, where the phrase “silky smooth” could become as famous as “more cowbell.” 

There’s a lot of inspired jokes in the movie; I liked the running gag about Hummus, something the middle-eastern characters eat in almost every scene, but there’s not enough here to sustain a two-hour film.  Cut half an hour out of this movie, remove the awful sex jokes, and the film would be drastically improved.

While the film isn’t silky smooth, there’s enough charm and wit to merit a viewing, though I’d recommend renting the DVD.  It’s not a film that needs a theater to be enjoyed.

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