Film Friday: ‘Don’t Mess With The Zohan’, ‘Kung Fu Panda’

by W. Andrew Powell

You Don\'t Mess With The Zohan

Adam Sandler in ‘You Don’t Mess With The Zohan’

Take a walk abroad this week, with three films that roam around the world. In You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, an Israeli agent wants to stop all the fighting and escape to become a hairdresser. The animated Kung Fu Panda features Jack Black as a giant panda who has been chosen to become a kung fu master. And the foreign film Mongol gives a glimpse back to the epic rise of Mongolia’s legendary leader, Genghis Khan.

You Don’t Mess With The Zohan
Beneath its silly, and repulsive sexual exterior, there is a clever satire moving beneath the surface of Adam Sandler‘s funny new film, You Don’t Mess With The Zohan.

Sandler helped write the script with Judd Apatow and Robert Smigel, and also stars as Zohan, the Israeli super-soldier who has tired of the constant bickering with Palestinian forces and fakes his own death so he can escape to America to be a hairstylist. Once he arrives in New York though, the troubles of his home country aren’t far behind, and no one will take him seriously as a hairstylist.

What makes Zohan so funny is the constant slapstick comedy, and hyper-stylized, cartoonish action. Zohan can do push-ups without using his hands, he can catch bullets with his mouth, and he has a perverse sexual desire for women of the elderly variety. It’s one of the silliest films I’ve seen in ages.

That tone can get a little tiring by the second half, and Zohan is a little too random at times, but it is really, really funny. There is also something charming about a movie that takes on a serious issue like this, and can tone it down for audiences. Many people will still be insulted I’m sure, especially by co-starring appearances by a few of Sandler’s favorite comedic actors, but Zohan is clever, and Sandler will no doubt return to this role for a sequel, unless I’m vastly mistaken.

Kung Fu Panda
Whether you call it perfect casting, or lack of imagination, animation was hardly necessary for Jack Black to play the role of an oversized, underachieving panda. In Dreamworks’ latest animated adventure though, Black does seem all too right as Po, an unlikely hero named as the “Chosen One” to fight against the threat of the snow leopard, Tai Lung.

Po is just an ordinary, clumsy waiter at a noodle restaurant, dreaming of greatness, when he is picked to join the greatest of the kung fu masters: Tigress, Crane, Mantis, Viper and Monkey, all trained by Master Shifu. If only Po wasn’t so lazy, his training might turn out a little better, but with Tai Lung ready to make trouble, he will have to figure out his destiny quickly, or trouble will come knocking at the door.

With voice work by Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogan, Lucy Liu and David Cross, the all-star cast will keep most adults entertained, while the cute and cuddly animals entertain the kids.

On the surface, the film looks like a lot of other animated films, but critics are more than impressed with Kung Fu Panda for having heart and loads of energy. “Kung Fu Panda is yet another celebrity-voiced animal adventure,” Tasha Robinson of the Onion AV Club said, “but it stands out from the crowd of similar films with its lightning wit and whirlwind brio.”

Russian filmmaker Sergei Bodrov brings one of the greatest figures of history to life in Mongol, the epic story based on the life of Genghis Khan.

Based on historical and scholarly research on the actual life of the conqueror, Mongol was shot on-location, and tells a resonating story that delves deeper than just the battles. The film starts in the leader’s youth, when he was known as Temudgin, and follows his rise to strength, and the eventual battle that would change his life. In addition, the film is a love story, about the woman that would ultimately also shape Temudgin’s destiny.

For anyone familiar with Hollywood’s version of this type of epic story, Mongol is a dramatically different type of film, with a lot to say, no doubt about it. It is also incredibly poignant, and has been very well received since it first screened at the 2007 Toronto Film Festival.

The GATE’s own Christopher Heard reviewed the film, noting one of the strongest aspects in the movie.

“Bodrov has painted a rich and resonating picture of a man who was fearless and ambitious but who also truly believed that it was the love of his wife that made everything possible for him,” Heard said in his review. “So while this film is a historical, true-life epic, it also, amazingly, functions as a love story as well.”

Film Friday is a weekly syndicated column produced by The GATE for print and online and examining the latest new arrivals coming to cinemas, with reviews, or a look at the critical consensus on each movie.

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