No project in years has divided me like You Don’t Mess With the Zohan (the last one to get me this confused was Debbie Does ‘Em All – how could she possibly do them all and within the running time? But yet that is such a great concept! God, even now I find I am at war with myself over this one). The script, which is about a Mossad agent who just wants to retire and become a hairdresser, was written by Robert Smigel and Judd Apatow – CHUD readers know my unholy Apatow fetish, but they should also know that Smigel, he of TV Funhouse and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, is one of the great comic geniuses of the age.
But herein lies the rub: it’s being developed as an Adam Sandler movie. And now it’s being directed by Dennis Dugan, the guy who directed Sandler to crumminess (or greatness, if you’re a comedy-impaired frat boy) in Happy Gilmore and Big Daddy, as well as helmed the truly shitty Benchwarmers. He just finished directing Sandler in I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, which is what I am looking at as the template for this film. To wit:
I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry has Robert Smigel and Alexander Payne as writers, but those were past drafts – my understanding is that some exceptionally hacktastic people were brought in to ‘punch it up,’ resulting in what will almost surely be a broadly uninteresting and unfunny comedy. So will Sandler bring in guys to ‘punch up’ Zohan? He used to room with Apatow and he used to work with Smigel on Saturday Night Live a lot, but he’s Sandler, and he knows his fans expect a certain thing – he only does a Punchdrunk Love or Reign Over Me every couple of years, you know. And maybe his fans will accept a serious role, but they would never accept a smart comedy from him.
We’ll know all the answers sooner rather than later – Zohan is filming this summer, so if there are writers being brought on, it’ll happen right about now. I really would like to see Sandler take what Apatow and Smigel did and not feel the need to bring in lowest common denominator sitcom writers to work on it, but the fact that he’s back with Duggan, a guy who can at best be described as a shooter – he gets the film in the can – doesn’t indicate much hope.