While I won’t deny that there is an audience for his comedies, I have never found much humor in the many variations of “The Guy Who Must Scream His Punchlines” that he has played in them. I find that he is much more successful on a filmmaking level when he moves away from that towards a more fully created character.
Such is the state of mind I approached You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, Sandler’s latest comedy in which he plays an Israeli superspy who decides to fake his own death in order to become a hairdresser in America. Though saddled with an unwieldy title and a basic premise that is a more than a bit well worn around the edges, the film still manages to eke out some honest laughs from its hoary old storyline.
Sandler, along with the film’s co-writers Robert Smigel and the seemingly ever present Judd Apatow, have created a character that treads a few well worn paths. The conceit of a foreigner arriving in a new country with an outdated or mistaken view of its culture is a conceit almost as old as comedy itself. Sandler’s former Saturday Night Live cast mate Mike Myers mined the idea for all it was worth in his three Austin Powers comedies, though with increasingly diminishing results.
But for the most part, Sandler still manages to make the character work. Zohan’s desire to be a hairdresser may be played for laughs, but it still manages to come as a heartfelt dream of one who is tired of the unending conflict he has fought in. It’s when the humor stems out of Zohan’s desires to for a new life and to make women look beautiful that the movie truly delivers some laughs. There’s also a plotline involving Zohan falling for the Palestinian-born owner (Emmanuelle Chirqui) of the hairdressing salon he comes to work at that works reasonably, if predictably, well.
There are moments when Sandler gets a bit too silly, even for the character, breaking the off-kilter reality the film has created. It is at these times, like Zohan’s exit from famed stylist Paul Mitchell’s swanky New York City salon after being turned down for a job, that it feels like director Dennis Dugan was perhaps a bit too enamored with what was shot to be able to sacrifice a favorite bit of business for the sake of the film. The jokes are fired at the audience with shotgun accuracy, scattershot with some finding their mark while others widely miss their target.