Confession: last night we added to our carbon footprint by driving 30 miles from Wilmot to Concord, New Hampshire, to see You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, Adam Sandler’s new farce, you know, about the Israeli commando who fakes his own death so that he can stowaway to New York and become a hair-dresser.
To get in the mood, and because (as the Yiddish saying goes) a pogrom should be a pogrom, we stopped first at Papa Gino’s for a “rustic” pizza and a Michelob. We entered the theater, which was otherwise empty as a cave, to find what appeared to be the brass section of the local high school band just after practice. Great, I thought: not just greying Jews. Their giggles would mean dumb, laughs would mean wonderfully dumb.
WELL, TO SAY the movie was very dumb is not, in this case, a compliment. Half the time I felt embarrassed for the screen, the way you feel embarrassed for, well, a high school band trying to play Appalachian Spring. Most gags seemed a five-foot leap over a seven-foot pit: the accents all sounded like the unpopular kids doing shtick at a bar-mitzvah, the humus and the groping seemed only half-intentionally tasteless, the fight scenes must have been pitched as “The Three Stooges meet Crouching Tiger,” the artless stereotypes were made worse by the movie’s perfunctory sub-theme, that Americans should reject stereotypes. This is to Ali G what Benny Hill was to Monty Python.
There was one sweet idea, which was that our hero should share his celebrated organ with the same pleasure of giving that my Auntie Malka once shared her celebrated honey cake—and share it mainly with women like my Auntie Malka. But—and here I am giving away the “plot”—his eventual falling in love with a Palestinian dish put an end to all of that. Suddenly—actually, predictably—Zohan moved from failed farce to a kind of Hanna-Barbera version of Munich. The movie would have a moral: peace would prevail if everybody in Israel and Palestine could move to America, if only in imagination, open a store, get laid, maybe start a family.
WHICH BRINGS ME to the dumbest thing of all. We felt strangely elated on the drive home, even grateful for a bad comedy that falls over itself to convey something affectionate. We watched New England flow by, the smell of leftover pizza mixing with the cedars, and smiled all the way. The dialogue was dumb, the story was dumb, the acting was dumb—everything dumb. Just not as dumb as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself.