Topical comedy, the kind that finds humor in the most current and sensitive topics, is a rare animal. The kind that has an insightful and witty eye for the wicked is even harder to find. Once in a while, though, a certain kind of film breaks the serious palate of the zeitgeist about a certain topic and brings to the forefront the absurdity of the human condition.
Adam Sandler's You Don't Mess with the Zohan ain't that film.
Sandler's screenplay, the one he co-wrote with Judd Apatow and Robert Smigel, is too busy being silly to balance that with smartness. There are snatches of hope here and there, but whatever brilliance Apatow may have brought to the table has been completely pulverized into a mess to fit Sandler's egg-shaped star head. This is infuriating because the snatches of hope really, really make you miss the sort of comedy that they could have made.
Sandler and Dennis Dugan instead chose to make this. Don't get it wrong, the initial silly bits are amusing as all heck. We are told the legend of an Israeli Special Forces super commando Zohan Dvir (Sandler), who can catch bullets in his ass cheeks, and brushes his teeth with hummus. All he really wants to do is be a hairstylist in New York, so he fakes his own death by the hands of a Palestinian called The Phantom (Turturro), and heads to the Big Apple.
The insanely choreographed superhero moves, coupled with Sandler's now trademarked deadpan delivery, have some amusing moments. Stupid, but at least doing their job in the funny department. It is when the scene shifts to NY, that the film starts to crumble under its intentionally stupid and shallow premise. Zohan doesn't get a job anywhere, so has to instead work as a stylist in a rundown Palestinian salon run by Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui). Of course he gets recognized by an ex-Palestinian commando working as a cabbie, cue antics.
The problem with the premise is not that it is silly, but that Sandler is content with it being so and refuses to raise the material above its plebeian roots. Consistently losing its path, the screenplay meanders into utterly vacuous territories before reaching the completely oblique climax. Zohan's passion for hairstyling could have been used as a stronger emotional investment, but it is just a side gag to set the film, because he soon becomes a man famous for sleeping with his clients. Most of them 70-year-olds.
Crude, obnoxious humor is something that Sandler fans expect, but when the core of the film is this shaky, all the crudeness in the world can't make you laugh. There are a few jokes here and there that come across as insightful, but in the context of the script, they too are more in a series of flat unfunny gags.
I didn't hate this film as much as I thought this was a wasted opportunity - for a gifted comic and a talented writer to come together and not deliver takes some terrible filmmaking, and that is completely at display here. If you're a hardcore Sandler fan, this film has plenty of jokes for you to laugh at half of them. If you prefer your humor with a little more context, you're better off waiting for the better Apatow films.