With Zohan, Sandler has a laugh at the Israeli-Arab conflict

June 7th, 2008 - 9:08 am ICT by IANS  

By Andy Goldberg
Los Angeles, June 7 (DPA) There are few weapons better than a sharp dose of wit for making a cutting political point. Just ask Jon Stewart, whose news satire “The Daily Show” is a top rated comedy, or for that matter Charlie Chaplin, whose “Great Dictator” ridiculed Hitler. But Adam Sandler’s attempt to satirize the Israeli-Arab conflict in his new movie “Don’t Mess With Zohan”, might not contribute too much to peace in the Middle East.

The story revolves around the unlikely character of Zohan, “the greatest soldier Israel has ever known”, a man likened by his father to “Rembrandt with a hand grenade”, who one sunny day decides that his killing time is over. Instead he wants to flee his life of battling Arab terrorists, and settle for the simple life of a New York hairstylist.

Of course it doesn’t work out the way he wants as his Palestinian nemesis comes after him. But along the way Zohan generously provides a full sexual service to many of his elderly clients and has time to learn some new home truths about the intricacies of the interminable Middle East conflict.

Sandler, whose Jewish heritage is well known, tries to avoid singling out either side for blame. In his movie Israelis seem overconfident and oversexed while Palestinians bluff and bumble their actions. But with the movie’s “why can’t we all live together” plea symbolised by a joint love of hummus it’s unlikely to make anyone reexamine their political concepts in the way that Borat forced many Americans to face up to the shortcomings of their culture.

Despite the subject matter, Sandler doesn’t seem at ease in making anything but the blandest political comments - and there’s no doubt that he struggled to find the right tone in the eight years that it took to bring the film from interesting idea to box-office blockbuster.

Judd Apatow, (The 40-Year-Old Virgin), the current Hollywood king of comedy was brought in to help wrangle the problem and in an interview with the New York Times he admitted the challenges they faced. “There was always the question of can you make this movie because it is making fun of the fact that people are so mad at each other,” he said.

The characters also seem completely convinced of their arguments - so much so that their fighting is interspersed with political polemics. “I’m just saying, it’s not so cut and dried!” shouts one assailant as he falls off a balcony.

There are jokes about a Hezbollah phone line that withholds bomb-making instructions during peace talks with the Israelis, and caricatures of soothing Jewish mothers.

“I love my country, but the fighting - when does it end?” asks Zohan plaintively, when he informs his parents of his abrupt career change. “They’ve been fighting for 2000 years,” his mother replies. “It can’t be much longer now.”

But the majority of laughs are made at the expense of Arab characters, a fact that did not overly trouble Egyptian-born Sayed Badreya, who plays one of Zohan’s New York adversaries, and who called the film a step in the right direction of reversing Hollywood’s usual stereotypes. “The jokes are not 50-50,” he told the New York Times. “It’s 70-30. Which is great. We haven’t had 30 for a long time. We’ve been getting zero. So it’s good.”

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