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I Saw It, So... Maybe You Should, Too?: 'You Don't Mess With the Zohan'

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Zohan_l_2I was being fairly rhetorical when I asked you guys last week whether I should go see Adam Sandler’s new movie. Those trailers were just too awful, and I’d been burned too many times by Sandler’s post-Waterboy “comedies.” But a number of you urged me to do it, mostly so I could write an “I Saw It, So You Don’t Have To” post, and I take your advice very seriously. The next day, meanwhile, I was talking to one of my favorite rappers, Method Man — and just as we wrapped up a half-hour chat about comic books, film, and music (more on that soon!), Mr. Mef exclaimed in a thick accent, apropos of nothing, “YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN!” I didn’t have a chance to ask him to elaborate, but I don’t take that kind of sign from above lightly. Finally, it was excruciatingly hot this weekend. All of which is my humble explanation for how I found myself in an air-conditioned multiplex screening of Zohan a couple nights ago, against all my (well-documented!) better judgment.

But something strange happened after that. Somehow, despite my extreme reluctance, Zohan won me over. Beneath all the juvenile gags (and there are lots of them), I saw a thoughtful, humanisticmessage — words I never thought I’d use to describe an Adam Sandlermovie. Again and again, Zohan went out of its way tosubvert and reject stereotypes instead of playing them for laughs. Other critics have articulated this much better than I can; in particular, I think the New York Times‘ A.O. Scott really nailed it when he called Sandler’s superhuman (but super-sensitive) Israeli spy “basically a less anguished version of the character played by Eric Bana in Munich.” At times Zohan almost seemed like a point-by-point broad-comedy remake of that excellent movie, essentially duplicating its critique of both sides in the Israel-Palestine conflict. The dumb macho-hairdresser stuff was almost an afterthought — believe it or not, Sandler wrapped a heartfelt argument against war and violence (and urban gentrification) inside that slapstick-candy shell. If you ask me, you don’t see that kind of nuanced political content in nearly enough dramas these days, let alone any crass comedy blockbusters. (One other exception: my favorite movie of 2008, Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.)

Oh, and that Dave-Matthews-as-racist-loony cameo I mentioned last week? Just as bizarre as I thought it would be, though it was admittedly eclipsed by the self-deprecating scene that Mariah Carey, playing herself, turned in. So tell me — did any of you mess with Zohan this weekend? And if you did, can you help me figure out whether I’m the only one crazy enough to take this happy, idiotic romp seriously?