Here it comes: Billy Madison is the Pulp Fiction of doofy ridiculous comedies.
For better or worse, the comedies of the last 15 years have been full of idiotic maniacs from an alternate world where cartoonish beatings and dangerously unbalanced relationships win the girl and the respect of your fellow man. For us violent sociopaths, it's a great time to be alive.
For movie fans, it's a decidedly less great time. These movies (Anchorman being a kinda-recent example of one of the good ones) take a very precise level of chaos which, when handled badly, make you imagined the script-pitching process went something like "OK, so Adam Sandler's character was in a childhood sitting accident that left him with a transplanted gorilla brain and a lifelong fear of chairs. He's made a successful career as a minor-league pirate, but now his plucky boat of brigands is being threatened by -- get this -- a smoking hot woman captain with two barstools for legs. A little predictable, but we've brought in five guys who think they're Napoleon to punch up the script. Let's roll!"
Rather than fleshing that out with actual jokes, though, they're content to just load that concept up with even more nonsense and sail it all the way to Disappointment Bay. Needless to say, despite my deep and abiding love of Billy Madison, Sandler's latest, You Don't Mess With the Zohan, didn't look to break that trend.
Sandler's an Israeli Mossad agent so badass he can catch bullets in his nose and single-handedly capture arch-enemies such as John Turturro. He grows weary of the endless fighting, though, and in a showdown with Turturro, he fakes his own death.
This gives Sandler the chance to start over in America, where he pursues his dream of becoming a hairdresser. It's tough going, and after being laughed out of the top salon in New York, he's forced to take up work sweeping the floors at a Palestinian-owned barber shop.
When his big break comes, he proves equally adept at cutting hair and sexing up his middle-aged clientele. But his new fame catches the eye of Rob Schneider, a Palestinian who's nursed a grudge ever since Sandler stole his pet goat -- and who moves to set Turturro back on Sandler's tail.
Bad news: Zohan is co-written by Sandler, who hasn't been funny since around the time the proto-Jews were deciding one god is really all you need.
Good news: his co-writers are Judd Apatow, the Comedy King Midas, and Robert Smigel, whose satire on Saturday Night Live has been so biting at least one sketch was permanently pulled from the air.
The result is one of the craziest, goofiest comedies in years, a nonstop joke fusillade which misses constantly but, like a lethal two-hour artillery barrage, often finds its mark, too. Catching fish between your ass cheeks? Not all that funny. Monofilament-sharp digs at Mel Gibson's anti-semitism? Now that's comedy.
People are going to call Zohan stupid, and people are going to be right. But there's a difference between "stupid-stupid" and "inspired, totally absurdly stupid." It can be a subtle distinction, to be sure -- to this day there remain some unfortunate souls who can't see the awesome splendor of, say, the scene in Billy Madison where Chris Farley makes out with a man-sized penguin who may or may not be real.
Not that Zohan ever reaches those rarefied heights. That scene is like the Shakespeare of dumb. Zohan has got enough of the absurd-stupid to make the heaping piles of stupid-stupid forgivable, though, particularly once its yelping horde of maniacal subplots start to converge.
Calling it Sandler's best since Happy Gilmore would barely twitch the needle on the Praise-ometer. It's funny, yeah, but more harmlessly ridiculous than consistently laugh-provoking -- that special brand of "kinda good, but let's not forget all those semi-lame parts" movie that will look much more impressive on TBS than it did in the theater.