A week and a half ago, The Guardian published an article entitled “Sandler’s Egyptian no-show by Egyptian journalist Gihan Shahine. The article states that the latest Adam Sandler film “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, a comedy tackling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a comic angle, has been banned from release by the Egyptian censors for “not conforming with the public order.
The news came as no surprise to me. Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder what “public order truly means; what are the exact criteria used for defining this so-called “order ? Most importantly though, how could a crude, flabby compilation of skits written by Adam Sandler – the most inane of all American comedians – disrupt this “order.
The censorship decree impelled me to do the unthinkable: watch an Adam Sandler flick. And instead of wasting my precious PC storage space and downloading the film, I decided, like any average Egyptian citizen with a good ADSL connection, to watch the film via a fine DVD copy available online.
In the course of a mostly excruciating 110 minutes, I was subjected to Mr. Sandler’s emblematic oeuvre of crass jokes, barrage of stereotypes, bamboozling cameos from John McEnroe, Dave Matthews and Mariah Carrey, and the horrific trauma of watching 68-year-old Lainie Kazan’s bare behind.
“Zohan is another typical Adam Sandler comedy; a brand that, alas, has proven to be highly popular with Egyptian moviegoers for more than a decade.
Zohan, the titular character played by Sandler, is a super spy or, as he refers to himself, a “counter-terrorist; a combination of Eric Bana’s Avner in “Munich sans the tormenting disillusionment, with the abrasive sexuality of Howard Stern.
Zohan’s many powers include a psychic control of renewable severed body parts, an uncanny talent for catching balls with his butt cheeks and a swimming velocity of a jet-ski.
Zohan’s greatest asset though is hair-styling. He has grown tired of fighting and all he deeply craves is “making people’s hair silky smooth.
In a brutal face-off with Palestinian assassin The Phantom (Sandler regular John Turturro), a nickname tweaked from his unknown real name Phatoush, Zohan fakes his own death and escapes to New York to realize his dream. He joins a small Brooklyn hair salon owned by, wait for it, a smoking hot Palestinian named Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui).
Zohan, pretending to be an Australian/Tibetan under the pseudo-name Scrappy Coco, soon wins over Dalia’s heart and trust with his unusual hair-styling methods that involves shagging each and every one of his elderly clients (a comic-line shamelessly stolen from Mel Brooks’ “The Producers ).
Dalia’s salon, and Zohan’s gracious extra services, soon become the talk of the town. Dalia’s smashing success incites ruthless corporate tycoon Walbridge (Michael Buffer) to sabotage her business by creating a rift between the Israelis and the Palestinians who, out of all neighborhoods in New York, work across the street from each other.
Sandler first wrote “Zohan’s rough script back in 2000 with Judd Apatow (writer director of “The 40 Year Old Virgin and “Knocked Up ). The topic was deemed too racy following 9/11 and was eventually scrapped.
Since then, the landscape has dramatically changed, with several major Hollywood and European production dwelling into the once forbidden waters of the Middle East conflict.
“Zohan is, by far, the least daring, most inconsequential and, needless to say, the silliest film of the bunch.
Sandler’s Middle East is a Looney Tunes-like place of turmoil where, for some odd reason, the fun-loving, sex-craving Israelis seem to be endlessly stuck in the 80s whereas every Palestinian, old and young, are strongly fixated on destroying Israel.
Each party receives its fair share of humorless jokes involving hummus, described as “a very tasty diarrhea-like substance; bargaining, circumcised barbarian Israelis and rich Arab Sheikhs requesting Carrey to sign their flags with “All I Want for Ramadan is You.
The animosity the two hold for each other is reduced to a few catch phrases. For instance, a Palestinian immigrant declares “People hate us. They think we’re terrorists. “People hate us, too. They think we’re you, an Israeli responds.
Eventually, the two find out that they’re not different from each other, ally against the American corporate Satan and make peace over a conversation debating which wife of current presidential candidate is “bang-able (the two concur on Michelle Obama).
I frankly don’t mind low-brow comedies. “National Lampoon’s Animal House and “Revenge of the Nerds are among my favorite comedies and I’m an unapologetic fan of Will Ferrell. The reason for “Zohan’s failure is not only its obvious juvenile distasteful humor; the problem is that Sandler recycles every joke to death. “Zohan essentially feels like a one, long running gag told over and over again.
Nevertheless, and despite its given hollowness, I had no problem with the film’s outlandishness; and there are, I have to admit, a few sporadic funny moments that do hit the mark.
That’s all there is to “Zohan though. Yet, evidently, the Egyptian censors had a different opinion, assuming that a stupid comedy whose star spends half the duration of the film flaunting his crotch may, as Salah Issa, chief editor of Ministry of Culture’s Al-Qahira newspaper puts it, “stir public unrest.
Go tell that to Egyptian actor Sayed Badreya and comedian Ahmed Ahmed from the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour who clearly thought otherwise when they agreed to star in the film. Or perhaps they should be blacklisted and stripped away of their Egyptian citizenship.
Foreign film theatergoers in Egypt are composed of upper-middle class adolescents under the age of 25 who have access to fast-speed internet connection and who will end up watching the film whether the censors like it or not.
My question is this: When, in the past 35 years, has the public protested the screening of a film? The infamous Keanu Reeves’ 1997 “The Devil’s Advocate was lifted off theater after members of the People’s Assembly protested the film’s “offensive reference to God, disregarding the overall fundamental message of the film. Not long afterwards, the film became a big underground hit; and that was even before the DVD revolution.
Egyptian censors have, once again, assumed its illusory role of the public protectors, acting as a tyrant parent, deciding what’s suitable for his infant children to watch and what’s not.
I’m not sure which’s more infuriating: the censor’s decree or the stance of our faux-intellectuals. The writers, artists and academics who constantly call for freedom of speech are the same figures who advocate blocking any material that doesn’t go along with their ideologies or beliefs.
Why can’t both the censors and intellectuals allow the public for once to decide for themselves? Are the censors that misguided to believe that a film like “Zohan could undermine the Palestinian cause? Why can’t they give the people the chance to accept or reject it?
For a country that claims to be the minaret of art in the Middle East, the latest episode in the censors’ continuous series of prohibitions, to put it bluntly, is nothing short of shameful.