Dave Itzkoff of the New York Times has an article in today’s paper about the forthcoming Adam Sandler movie, “Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” about “an Israeli assassin who flees to the United States to become a hairdresser.”
Trailers for the film promise plenty of broad farce, physical comedy and at least one lewd dance routine. What the ad campaign for â€œZohanâ€ does not emphasize is that the film also attempts to satirize the continuing tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and provide humorous commentary on one of the least funny topics of modern times with a comedian who is not exactly known for incisive political wit.
Movies have always been more willing to take on sensitive and especially politically incendiary subjects through comedy earlier and more incisively than they have in drama. Two movies that came out the same year were both reactions to the Cold War. Hardly anyone remembers “Failsafe,” the compelling but very earnest dramatic version anymore, but the comedy, “Dr. Strangelove,” is considered a classic. Charlie Chaplin (“The Great Dictator”) and German immigrant Ernst Lubitsch (“To Be or Not to Be”) had the courage to be critical of Hitler while dramatic films like “Watch on the Rhine” were just beginning to catch up.
The Times reports that the filmmakers had a hard time getting ethnically Arab actors to even try out for the film. But the article also says that those who did accept parts engaged in some very frank but friendly exchanges between shots.
[Egyptian-born actor Sayed] Badreya, who was recently seen playing an Afghan terrorist in â€œIron Man,â€ said that by offering Arab or Muslim characters that are in any way divergent from the usual Hollywood stereotypes, â€œZohanâ€ is a step in the right direction.
â€œThe movie presents what happened to me,â€ said Mr. Badreya, who grew up in Port Said, Egypt, during the 1967 and 1973 wars and emigrated to the United States in 1979. â€œSince it happened to me, it will work for someone like me.â€
Mr. Badreya said that the comedy in â€œZohanâ€ was not quite evenly divided between ridiculing Arabs and ridiculing Jews. â€œThe jokes are not 50-50,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s 70-30. Which is great. We havenâ€™t had 30 for a long time. Weâ€™ve been getting zero. So itâ€™s good.â€
From the trailer, it appears that the movie creates some humor from gender stereotypes and that it casts longtime Sandler friend Rob Scheider, whose ethnic background is part European-Jewish and part Filipino, as an Arab, providing even more opportunities for offense — and comedy.
Baderya said he was persuaded to try out for the part by his daughter, a fan of Sandler’s films. That may be the most hopeful sign of common ground of all.