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A new step for Sandler

In his latest film, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, Adam Sandler shows audiences that he is willing to shed his signature persona to create a character unlike any he’s ever played.

Sandler’s career is not exactly based on intelligent comedy. This trend dates back to his days on Saturday Night Live with characters like Opera Man and Canteen Boy. Typically, Sandler’s humor relies on over-the-top caricatures and loudmouthed rants. In fact, since his breakthrough role in 1995’s Billy Madison, Sandler has played variations of that same anger-prone underachiever in virtually every film he’s made, save for his occasional forays into drama (Spanglish, Punch-Drunk Love).

In this film, Sandler plays Zohan, an Israeli counterterrorist agent who has become his government’s secret weapon in their ongoing war with Palestine. Frustrated by the seemingly endless battle between the two nations, Zohan fakes his own death at the hands of his arch-nemesis The Phantom (John Turturro) and re-emerges in New York City with aspirations of becoming a professional hairstylist.

While this outrageous setup may give moviegoers the impression that Zohan will be a familiar role for Sandler, he is surprisingly nothing like previous characters. Where Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore and the rest have had more anger management issues than ambition, Zohan is remarkably composed and remains focused on achieving his dreams. Despite the many difficulties he faces throughout the film, Zohan never feels the need to raise his voice or lash out in rage. In this respect, the film represents a minor step forward for Sandler, who recently won the Generation Award at the MTV Movie Awards.

Sandler has shown an experimental streak in recent years and it has led to some of his best performances. If his upcoming projects are any indication, Sandler will continue spreading his creative wings. This Christmas he will appear in the family comedy Bedtime Stories before starring in a not-yet-titled drama/comedy from writer/director Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up).

For the most part, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan succeeds where many of Sandler’s recent films have failed. It may not be the most sophisticated comedy, but audiences will still enjoy a few cheap laughs. While a far cry from his best films, Zohan is a solid comedy sure to please Sandler’s longtime fans.

Runtime: 113 minRating: PG-13Grade: B-