You Don't Mess with the Zohan

Plenty of New York racial tension, old-lady sex, animal abuse, and hackey-sack.

You Don't Mess with the Zohan

Director: Dennis Dugan
Cast: Adam Sandler, Emmanuelle Chriqui, John Turturro, Nick Swardson, Rob Schneider, Lainie Kazan
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Sony
First date: 2008
US DVD Release Date: 2008-10-07

Producing hit after hit on an annual basis for five or six years now, Adam Sandler and his Happy Madison Productions have a consistency bordering on laziness. For the better part of a decade, Sandler has been most interesting doing variations on his persona (maladjusted but fundamentally decent man-child) for other people's movies. But You Don't Mess with the Zohan, a $100 million grosser that nonetheless made less than, say, Click or The Longest Yard, is a Happy Madison production that snaps him out of that complacency.

Though it's not as lean as his earliest, funniest comedies, You Don't Mess with the Zohan, now on DVD, maintains some of that looseness as it follows its title character, a master Israeli terrorist ("like Rembrandt with a grenade!" enthuses his father) who longs to escape the violence around him and become a hairdresser. During an epic confrontation with his Palestinian arch-rival the Phantom (John Turturro, who enters the movie crouching on the ceiling and manages to go even further over-the-top from there), Zohan fakes his death and heads to New York for a job at a salon.

If any of this sounds remotely straightforward (and it shouldn't), please keep in mind that the movie also features plenty of New York racial tension, old-lady sex, animal abuse, and hackey-sack, and runs nearly two hours. The rambling screenplay is credited to Sandler, Robert Smigel (TV Funhouse), and current comedy guru Judd Apatow, and they send the movie ricocheting from lazy Sandlerisms to knowingly broad, subtly satiric material you'd expect from Smigel. A fratty commentary track with Sandler and Smigel (plus hangers-on/co-stars Rob Schneider and Nick Swardson) is most instructive when they explain who came up with which sight gags, phrasings, and ridiculous subplots.

Despite the running time and Apatow's peripheral involvement, You Don't Mess with the Zohan doesn't exactly overflow with inspired riffs. Happy Madison remains overly fond of dopey running gags (Swardson plays a character whose only function is to be made uncomfortable by his mother's relationship with Zohan) and/or lifeless cameos -- the likes of Kevin Nealon, John McEnroe, and Dave Matthews make for a mangier repertory company than the Freaks and Geeks crew that Apatow typically employs. The "unrated" DVD cut runs a barely perceptible five extra minutes and the deleted scenes explain why: they're 15-minutes of trims, not major cuts. The boys appear to have thrown a lot of material up on screen.

But for the first time in years, a Sandler comedy is held together by more than a lazily executed high concept -- indeed, You Don't Mess with the Zohan's enthusiastic weirdness practically makes it a parody of high concepts. Some of the material is obvious and sometimes the pace slackens, but the movie's high spirits prevail. The barrage of goofy ethnic jokes, slapstick, and absurdism, even at its most vulgar, feels inclusive and good-hearted.

Sandler has often toyed with the image of a good Jewish boy gone mischievous, and the Zohan character is a hilariously illogical extension of this idea: he's an even-tempered nice guy who happens to also be an unstoppable warrior. Violence often figures into his persona, and here the writers find a new angle. On the commentary, Smigel mentions that the invincibility of Zohan and the Phantom is meant as a gibe at violence glorification, and in a featurette, the film's stunt coordinator talks about using movie trickery to make those characters "ten percent beyond" the abilities of actual humans (though I'd conservatively place the ability to catch bullets in one's bare hands and/or nostrils closer to 60 percent).

Beyond spoofery, the Zohan allows Sandler to shed his recent faux-populist tics -- the low-key non-acting, the droppin' of his g's, the propensity for saying "ain't", bundled with his semi-latent conservatism -- in favor of a more convincing togetherness. It may be naïve to think that Israelis and Palestinians could put aside their differences to fight off gentrification (and depressing that the merry solution still involves a giant new mall going up somewhere in Manhattan), but when Zohan and the Phantom pool their superhuman resources, it's still oddly sweet, even moreso than Zohan's affection for his Palestinian love interest (Emmanuelle Chriqui).

Sandler and a lot of his filmmaking buddies went to NYU -- it's one reason all of the regular Joe "ain't" stuff has rung false in the past -- and You Don't Mess with the Zohan has a charming optimism about the city and its cross-cultural inhabitants. Smigel is probably too canny a satirist to fall for these resolutions on his own; this is Smigel working in his buddy's All-American sitcom world, not the other way around. But even the movie's sometime simple-mindedness is a cheerful choice, rather than a default setting. For a couple of hours, Sandler reconciles his nice Jewish boy with his marauding vulgarian, and for the first time in years, his comedy is personal again.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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