Laughter is the best medicine. It's true. Think of a tense moment from your past that was diffused by either a goof, a spontaneous joke, or an unexpected smile. It's simple, really: what other shared experience is more bonding that a good laugh?
Now, I'm not idealistic enough to think that a few giggles will keep Hamas from lobbing katyusha rockets into Israel, or Israel from running military incursions into Gaza, or Hezbollah from baiting Israel into war, or Iran from... well, you get the point. As the Zohan's mom reminds us, "They've been fighting for 2000 years now."
Movies (or any art) aren't meant to change the world. However, the best of them can deliver a connection, offer reflection, and most importantly... seduce you to feel. In just two years, Adam Sandler and director Dennis Dugan have accomplished all three of those markers with two savvy, social comedies: the underrated and misunderstood I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, and the new You Don't Mess With The Zohan. Both films offer keen insight on the modern American hot topics of gay marriage, terrorism, and immigration. These are Hollywood's best political films in years.
Adam Sandler is The Zohan, the Tiger Woods of Mossad agents. Although he's loyal to his country, he's on the verge of having had enough. While on leave, he is recalled for a special mission to recapture the released Palestinian uber-terrorist, The Phantom (John Turturro).
In a brilliant spoof of an action sequence, Zohan chases The Phantom through the streets of Gaza. Children rush out to throw rocks at him (recalling Robert Smigel's hilarious TV Funhouse commercial "ROCKS" where Palestinian children show off their favorite cartoon-decaled rocks that they use to throw at tanks...), but Zohan catches the stones and fashions them into a toy, pacifying the children's rage with joy. Later, he dodges a rocket that destroys a merchant's store, but then zips the owner a business card for repairs like it's a Chinese star. The Zohan : charitable counter-terrorist.
But most glorious of all, and surely one of 2008's wittiest on-screen moments, is the paddle-ball grenade match between The Zohan and The Phantom. Knee-deep in the ocean, both men volley a bomb like it's second nature. It's like the daily back-and-forth battles on the border between Israel and Gaza. Their "take this!... no, you take this!" bickering has become routine and mundane like a yawning game of Pong.
Once Zohan makes his way to New York City, the grade of humor downshifts into the juvenile. That's fine with me because I love me some lowbrow jokes, but it makes one wonder if Sandler (w/ co-writers Judd Apatow and Robert Smigel) purposefully decided to throw in an equal share of pee-pee, boobies, and sex jokes to satisfy those unfamiliar with (and/or uninterested in) Middle East events. However, one could also argue that Zohan's post-haircut coitus with his over sixty-five clients is sexual liberation for the female AARP set. (Another socio-political victory for Sandler and Dugan!)
You Don't Mess With The Zohan concludes with an ending that corrects the mistakes of the equally racially and socially complicated Do The Right Thing. At the time, that latter film's final moments felt provocative and fresh. But in hindsight - and with the entirety of Spike Lee's work laid out in full view for us - Do The Right Thing's ending now feels cheap and whiny. Sandler has evolved since his SNL days. While nobody was looking he went from Hanukkah songster to politically brave filmmaker. Forget messing with the Zohan, I'll be impressed if another comedy this year can even touch the Zohan.