PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, language and nudity. 113 min. Two stars out of four.
For all its perceived shock value and concern that a comedy about conflict in the Middle East would offend just about everyone imaginable, “Zohan” is really rather conventional and familiar. At its core, it’s just “Romeo and Juliet,” wrapped in Adam Sandler’s trademark raunchy humor.
Sandler stars as the titular character, an Israeli commando who fakes his own death to escape to the United States and pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a hairdresser. He’s a superhuman trained killer but all he wants to do is make people “silky smooth,” one of many jokes that get repeated ad nauseam in Dennis Dugan’s overlong movie. While in New York, he wows his older female customers with his sexual prowess (and the haircuts he copies from his 1987 Paul Mitchell book), but he also finds he’s fallen for his boss, Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui), a salon owner who happens to be Palestinian.
He also must elude a group of Arabs, led by cab driver Salim (old “SNL” buddy Rob Schneider), who want to report Zohan’s existence to the Palestinian terrorist (John Turturro) who thought he’d killed him. Sandler co-wrote the script with longtime friends and comedy titans Robert Smigel and Judd Apatow, so it features smarter and more grown-up laughs than you would expect from a typical Happy Madison Production.
With its messages of acceptance and reconciliation, the film’s heart is certainly in the right place. And with cameos from Mariah Carey, Charlotte Rae, George Takei, Dave Matthews and John McEnroe, it’s got to feature the most random cross-section of humanity since “Zoolander.” Mostly, though, it’s just plain silly.
KUNG FU PANDA
PG for sequences of martial arts action. 91 min. Three stars out of four.
The adaptation of such a delicate creature as the giant panda to a habitat like the summer movie season — a zoo if ever there was one — is an obvious ploy for family crowds. But “Kung Fu Panda” is surprisingly fun and free of the usual blockbuster bloating, despite its star-packed voice cast. It also has easily the best computer animation of a DreamWorks production yet, far surpassing the look of “Madagascar” or even “Shrek.” It’s not quite on Pixar’s level, but it’s close.
Our hero, Po, voiced by Jack Black, is an overweight dreamer who has more in common with Black’s Nacho Libre than Hsing-Hsing. He puts the giant in giant panda. Despite his lack of talent, the duty of protecting his village is thrust upon Po. But at every turn, the gravity of the kung fu archetype is contrasted with Po’s oafishness. He’s advised: “Panda, we do not wash our pits in the Sea of Forgotten Tears.” He’s plucky, but it’s not Po’s grit that endears us to him; it’s his casual good-naturedness.
The voice work throughout is good, particularly that by Dustin Hoffman and Ian McShane. Angelina Jolie as Tigress is completely forgettable. As summer movies get bigger and bigger, they often make us, the audience, feel smaller and smaller. The bright “Kung Fu Panda” is a simple and lighthearted exception.