Film Review: You Don’t Mess With The Zohan

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For those of us who just don’t find Adam Sandler funny, and who have seen no merit to date in any of his movie offerings, his continued Hollywood success is inexplicable.

His breakthrough as the man-child idiot millionaire in the titular Billy Madison back in 1995 created the high-pitched, slightly wonky-eyed, slightly mentally-impaired persona that’s been a hallmark of many of his cinematic outings, reaching its irritating peak in 1998’s The Waterboy.

It’s also on display in the likes of Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy, The Longest Yard and – most offensively for fans of the original Gary Cooper-starring Frank Capra classic Mr Deeds Goes to Town – Mr Deeds.

Even when creating new characters, as in Little Nicky and The Wedding Singer, or taking on more grown-up roles as in Punch-Drunk Love and Reign Over Me, traces of his usual man-child idiot schtick would emerge; so if you didn’t like that routine, no Sandler film was ever likely to appeal.

Now, however, it’s time for a new effort from Sandler, and a fresh attempt at a brand new comic character, albeit one that seems decidedly inspired by Sandler’s friend and occasional co-star Ben Stiller, he of Zoolander and Dodgeball fame.

Which is, of course, no bad thing.

Though by no means always hits, Stiller’s comic creations for the big screen have been among the most entertaining of recent years, even if he has yet to top the sheer unexpected brilliance of Derek Zoolander as a character.

And so, where Stiller’s bit of genius was to come up with a male supermodel who gets brainwashed to work as a political assassin, Sandler has effectively reversed the concept.

The Zohan of the title, is the ultimate human fighting machine of the Israeli Special Forces, who quits to become a rather camp New York hairdresser.

He is also, while doubtless being inspired by Zoolander, Sandler’s finest comic creation to date.

Sandler’s usual gormless expression is hidden by a goatee beard, his regular guy build replaced by toned biceps, and the whining voice disguised beneath a faux-Israeli accent (which becomes a running joke as various New Yorkers mistake him for an Arab – not a joke likely to go down well in Israel itself).

Sandler is hardly recognizable. Which for his fans, keen for more of the same, may be a disappointment – but for the rest of us is a welcome relief.
This is not to say that the film doesn’t have its flaws.

It goes on a bit too long, and some of the jokes are repeated a few too many times, but it is both funny and surprisingly brave, given the climate of the last few years.

It’s about time we had a few more comedies about terrorism.

After all, if the point of terrorism is to scare us, then surely the best antidote is to laugh at it.

During the Second World War there were plenty of comedies about Hitler and the Nazis, from Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator right through, and the same happened throughout the Cold War, with the Communists a constant source of fun.

Having done the serious post-9/11 thing in Reign Over Me, perhaps the New York-obsessed Sandler felt it was time to move on.

It’s hard not to feel that it’s a good thing he did. Because while this is certainly no Zoolander, as Sandler evidently hoped it might be, it is finally the kind of film in which those of us who haven’t so far been able to see his appeal can actually enjoy one of his performances for a change.