Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Get Smart (2008) & You Don't Mess With the Zohan (2008)

First, apologies (to anyone out there who cares) about the lack of posts lately, the holidays and my impending unemployment ($&#*^ing freelance job) have kept me out of it. So here's a couple of easy ones.

Get Smart is pretty much a waste of time, with lame direction from Peter Segal (the guy who gave us Tommy Boy), a lazy screenplay, and cruddy digital cinematography. The only things it has going for it (and not coincidentally, the main reason I saw it) are the performances from its leading actors. And even though Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, and Alan Arkin aren't given much to work with, they earn their massive paychecks, squeezing every possible chuckle and emotional moment from their desiccated material. Carell is especially good as the nerdy, quasi-idiot savant Maxwell Smart. But this is probably giving too much credit to an unnecessary TV adaptation that isn't very good anyway.

On the other hand, I enjoyed You Don't Mess With the Zohan a lot more than I expected to, more than any other Sandler comedy since Little Nicky (yes, really). One thing I especially liked about it was its good-natured open-heartedness on an insanely touchy subject - this is a movie that suggests that a Palestinian master terrorist (John Turturro) might not be such a bad guy, and can even join forces as the hero's sidekick in foiling a nefarious conspiracy plot from an alliance of American capitalists and rednecks. Think about that - a mainstream Hollywood movie with a budget of something like $90 million dollars predicated on showing that businessmen and hicks are bigger bad guys than Palestinian terrorists. It's a more extreme position than the one taken by Spielberg in Munich, which was pretty widely attacked as "defeatist" and "morally relativist" - which is to illustrate the amazing and subversive power of comedy, to slip under the radar and present ideas without people realizing.

I don't want to say that Zohan is as rich or complex as Munich because after all, it's still an Adam Sandler movie, and its ideological ideas are simplistic and based on stereotypes. Fortunately the movie doesn't really need to be rich or complex as long as it delivers as a comedy, which it does - it's often a breathtakingly silly movie, with scenes of cats being used as hacky sacks, Lainie Kazan in a sex scene, and hummus everywhere. The Israeli superspy Zohan Dvir is Sandler's best comedic creation since Canteen Boy, a Sabra goof with supreme confidence and a ridiculous accent, yet not a trace of condesension (I can't honestly say the same for Rob Schneider's brownface Arab cab driver). Sandler's movies have been open-minded and inclusive for a long time, to gays (I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry), imprisoned convicts (The Longest Yard), and weirdoes in general, and I'm glad to see him broadening his approach to include the Arab-Israeli conflict as well.

The movie's signature scene: a group of New York Jews and Arabs confront each other about politics until the conversation devolves into which First Lady they all find more sexually attractive - and if Rob Schneider hadn't already made The Hot Chick I'd suggest that Sandler just needs to cross women off his list of groups next.

Get Smart: 4/10
You Don't Mess With the Zohan: 7/10

6 comments:

Craig Kennedy said...

One thing I like about your reviews Jeff is there's never a sense that you're just towing some kind of party line. The result is that when you do go along with the masses, as you pretty much are with Get Smart, it has more of a ring of truth to it.

I also like your take on Zohan, a movie I almost saw but never quite got around to. I would've been content had it just made me laugh, but the subversion you talk about makes it more interesting, even if it's not a cornerstone of the film.

Regarding what you say about the ability of comedy to put over pretty controversial subjects...it's all the more irritating that modern comedies don't take advantage of that fact more often.

Jeff McMahon said...

Thanks Craig, that's the goal. I just wish I could force myself to write more frequently.

Zohan is totally worth renting if you don't want to bother with theatrical, it's not like it's a visual wonder or anything (although it is better than Get Smart on that level).

Alexander Coleman said...

These are two I'll probably check out on DVD, the former just because of nostalgic reasons pertaining to seeing the TV show on Nick at Nite as a little kid, and the latter because it looked about as interesting (and actually funny) as you've made it sound. I read somewhere Sandler said Munich was the template for the spoof, and that made me want to see it as well.

Sam Juliano said...

Nice work here. I expected as much with GET SMART, and have so far resisted it, but ZOHAN has gotten positives and negatives. You bring up a second level of comedic worth here that make it appealing. I will await the DVD.

Jeff McMahon said...

Indeed you shall, posthaste!

adwin356 said...

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