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Short Takes

This week in local theaters

YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN In a passable Israeli accent, outsize codpiece and a new and improved bod, Adam Sandler’s Zohan, a Mossad super-heavy, is every Jewish nerd’s dream of self-transformation—until, that is, he has a career crisis and turns up in Manhattan as a would-be hairdresser in an awful ’80s shag who falls for his Arab boss (Emmanuelle Chriqui) while heading off a simmering Israeli-Arab war among the expats in the ’hood. If nothing else—and there isn’t much else—You Dont Mess With the Zohan pronounces the Middle East fair game for absurdist comedy. Very loaded comedy—the Palestinians (well, Rob Schneider) are stupid rubes who don’t know their nitroglycerin from their Neosporin. But for a caper whose antic pacing is clearly beamed at mini-mohawked boys and their bravely smiling dates, Zohan comes in a curiously arcane package more likely to induce thigh-slapping among Tel Aviv elders or Jewish Americans who took their semester abroad in Israel circa 1985. Dennis Dugan directs with his usual heavy hand, but I like Sandler’s trademark combination of shock tactics and sweetness. There’s a crazed good-heartedness to Zohan (renamed Scrappy Coco) as he shtups his elderly-matron clientele. It’s as if Sandler has elected to assemble all the solicitous Jewish mothers he’s ever known and give them a great big Oedipal prezzie just for being who they are. —Ella Taylor (Opens Friday) KUNG FU PANDA By all means, gather up the little ones and take them to this perfectly pleasant, very good-looking, modestly funny, dispiritingly unoriginal variant on the nerd-with-a-dream recipe that’s been clobbered to death in animated films for at least a decade now. Hectic as ever, Jack Black voices Po, a pot-bellied panda who’s stuck making noodles with dad (a goose—for reasons that escape me—voiced by James Hong), even though he lives and breathes kung fu trivia and longs to become a Master. The call comes from Dustin Hoffman as a pint-sized Zen guru, under whose grumpy tutelage Po and five other trainee critters with famous voices band together to save the world from a disgruntled snow leopard (Ian McShane). The movie’s design is striking, the colors are gorgeous, and the fight sequences are pretty suave—but the adorability quotient is set a little high for this jaded palate. And is there a child around the moviegoing globe who couldn’t lip-sync by now the smug sloganeering about following your bliss, playing to your strengths and learning to be a mensch in good times and bad? Department of small mercies: For once, the moral voice (or “takeaway,” as it’s excruciatingly called in the production notes) comes more out of Buddhism than the Protestant work ethic. So we’re talking smash hit in Marin County and Dharamsala. —Ella Taylor (Opens Friday)

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