Friday, June 13, 2008

DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN AND KUNG FU PANDA

I’m not that crazy about Adam Sandler or Jack Black. At least not when they’re doing the kind of overgrown juvenile obnoxiousness that often defines their humor and has made them fortunes and movie stars (so what do I know).

When Sandler’s doing something a little more age appropriate, like 50 FIRST DATES or THE WEDDING SINGER, I actually like his comic acting skills a lot. Or his more dramatic attempts as in REIGN OVER ME.

Not so Black. He’s more of a mixed bag in straight drama. I hated him in MARGOT AT THE WEDDING. But dug him where most of us discovered him in HIGH FIDELITY.

The absence of seemingly any sensitivity for others’ feelings or space or perspective or etc. (I know I know that’s the joke) makes Black always seem like somebody I’d like to punch, or would have liked to back in the day.

With Sandler it’s more the smug spoiled kid attitude that brings that out in me. Though probably either of them could kick my old butt these days, and Sandler certainly looks like he can in DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN.

He seems to spend a lot of the earlier part of the movie naked or semi-nude, and seems pretty beefed up in the old style non-steroid way. The nudity is part of the humor, though I suspect a little showing off on Sandler’s part as well.

Black was also naked in a few shots in MARGOT AT THE WEDDING, which I found way too much more than I paid for, but he also seemed pretty proud of his huge gut as well as his butt. And for all I know, women find that attractive (actually I know at least one beautiful woman who’s admitted to me she loves men with big bellies, but I still find it difficult to accept that Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character in MARGOT AT THE WEDDING would put up with not just the jerk Black plays in the flick but with his preening solipsism).

But as the voice of the title character in the animated KUNG FU PANDA, Black infused the character with the kind of charm and vulnerability, as well as charisma, I often find lacking in his actual movie roles, even though I often end up digging the movies anyway, like SCHOOL OF ROCK and NACHO LIBRE.

Sandler usually wins me over also, despite my reservations about the characters he plays and his approach to humor. But in DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN, he doesn’t quite pull it off for my taste.

Part of the problem is the plethora of genital jokes, his genitals, or pubic area jokes to be more specific. It’s not just juvenile and tiresome, but it’s attached to a story that’s an attempt to make humor out of the debilitatingly stubborn problem of Israel and the Palestinians.

The story is pretty funny at times, the unreality of Zohan, a super hero Mossad agent (Israeli CIA more or less) and his super feats, coupled with jokes about Israeli eating habits and retail shenanigans, as well as similarly broad jokes about Arabs and others.

But in the end, the seemingly across the board political un-correctness leans in favor of the Israelis, not the Arabs, and definitely not the Irish (the only unrepentant completely intolerant bigoted hateful ugly character is named “O’Skanlon” which I assume is a nod to Bill O’Reilly and his ilk, coupled with a slight on “white trash redneck” bigots since O’Skanlon has a good ol’ boy deep South accent as well, a prejudice I always disliked, from the first time I encountered it and wrote a review of THE WILD BUNCH when it came out in 1969 and got a lot of letters from “hillbillys” as they were proud to call themselves thinking I was one of them because I dared to point out that the more despicable the character in that film, the thicker his “hillbilly” accent, a not uncommon movie cliché, along with the evil Arab terrorist etc.).

When Zohan takes on an enclave of Palestinian fighters beyond cliché, and defeats them all until he encounters John Tuturro playing Zohan’s Palestinian nemesis, one of the Arab fighters and Zohan engage in a short political riff that ends with the Arab defeated by Zohan and Zohan saying to the Arab plummeting several stories down, something about how yes it’s true that Zohan is relatively new to this land and the Arab’s people have been there for a few hundred years, but Zohan’s ancestors were there thousands of years ago.

It’s the kind of jive argument the people who made this movie seem to be making fun of except for certain moments when they don’t, like the above. Otherwise they seem to be trying to transcend the usual arguments with a message of “we can all get along” if we accept each other as not only the way we are, but that the way we are is pretty close (as is usually the case with the most long lived “enemies”) but then defeats with scenes like the above.

Because if that’s all the Arabs would have to do is acknowledge that the Jews were in Israel first, even if thousands of years ago, than the Palestinians could say, well no, actually, we descend from the people the original Israelis displaced etc. and Native Americans would have the right to displace the rest of us “Americans” descended from anything other than native tribes, kick us off our land, etc. etc.

Too bad Sandler and the others who made this flick couldn’t resist being a little too self-righteous politically between all the otherwise leveling jokes about both sides, or all sides. And too bad the only truly evil guy had to be an Irish descended redneck.

But KUNG FU PANDA is pretty fun. If you have a kid, they’ll probably dig both these flicks, though the humor in ZOHAN is mostly for adults, or overgrown juveniles.

1 comment:

patrick said...

it looks like Zohan might win in a fight versus the Kung-Fu Panda, but the Panda looks more fun to watch