No country on Earth finds immaturity as funny as ours.
From The Three Stooges to Jerry Lewis to “Men Behaving Badly,” we never tire of “adult” adolescents who bawl and snigger and (nowadays) play with their private parts and spurt profanity. They grow an inch or two emotionally by the end, but the Will Ferrells and Adam Sandlers remain happily in the cradle of perpetual delinquency.
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The latest example is “You Don't Mess With the Zohan,” in which the 42-year-old Sandler proves even a hardened Israeli secret service agent can be an imbecilic juvenile.
The title character is a Mossad master spy assigned to recapture The Phantom (scenery-munching John Turturro), a Palestinian killer whom he has already caught once. Zohan's disgusted with bosses and tired of his old life, so he fakes his death and comes to America in a dog crate, armed with an outdated Paul Mitchell styling book and a love of disco. (Apparently, Israeli culture has remained stuck in the '80s.)
Zohan, renamed Scrappy Coco, gets a job in a run-down salon managed by a Palestinian named Dalia (Emmanuelle Chiriqui). He attracts a vast clientele of older women by rinsing, styling, then schtupping them. (One of his clients is Charlotte Rae of “The Facts of Life.” She certainly learns a few here.) Zohan and Dalia's burgeoning love is complicated by Israeli-Arab hatreds, which boil over when a Palestinian cab driver (Rob Schneider) tries to kill Zohan and the Phantom visits New York.
For every mildly fresh gag – say, the hacky-sack game played with a cat as the sack – there are 40 jokes about Zohan's bulging groin and sexual prowess, multiple shots of people's bare butts and the usual Sandler-movie remarks about “homos.” (Are they less offensive if an 82-year-old Jew goes on and on about “faygelehs”? Hey, Shelley Berman – glad to see you're not dead!)
The preachy “can't-we-all-just-get-along” message means well, just as “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” supposedly supported tolerance in the end. But both movies lurch and jerk so clumsily in the hands of director Dennis Dugan that they seem to have been thrown together over a long drunken weekend without editing.
True Sandler fans, if there be any who have made it this far without cursing me, will want to know only where “Zohan” stands on the A.S. scale, with “Happy Gilmore” at the top and “Little Nicky” at the bottom. I'd put it closer to the latter than the former.
P.S. The preview before the screening was for “Step Brothers,” with Ferrell and John C. Reilly as immature 40-year-olds who live with their newly married parents and can't get along. Pray for me and critics everywhere.