THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
You've got to hand it to Jewtopia; it's got a memorable title. And really, the title gives you a pretty good idea of what you're going to get. The movie has lots of Jewish humor. It's a little bit silly, a little bit obvious, a little bit tongue-in-cheek, a little bit outrageous, and so on. What the title can't convey is that the comedy is very hit-or-miss. While it does hit on occasion, there are far more misses.
Ivan Sergei plays Christian O'Connell, a guy you might not-so-politely refer to as a “redneck.” He loves NASCAR and displaying the heads of animals he's killed in his living room. For reasons we won't go into here, Christian attends a Jewish singles dance and meets a very sexy young woman named Alison (Jennifer Love Hewitt). Knowing she won't date a Gentile, he pretends to be a Jewish doctor named Avi Goldberg. They go on a date, which ends disastrously. Christian then seeks out his childhood best friend, Adam Lipschitz (Joel David Moore), to teach him how to act Jewish so he can win Allison back. (This involves things like sending back food in a restaurant, complaining about the temperature, and mastering Bridge.) While Christian pursues his new love, Adam deals with his own problem: he's engaged to a control-freak gynecologist named Hannah (Jamie-Lynn Sigler). The two men attempt to sort out their romantic issues against a backdrop of non-stop Jewish jokes.
Jewtopia very intentionally traffics in broad ethnic stereotypes. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, so long as a movie is letting you know that it's in on the joke, which this one certainly does. Jewish people aren't the only ones who get a ribbing, either; Gentiles, Mexicans, and other ethnicities are occasionally on the chopping block, too. The problem with Jewtopia is not that it milks stereotypes for laughs, but that it doesn't do anything else comedically. The primary joke – Jews are quirky – is repeated again, and again, and again. There are only so many times you can see such eccentricity displayed before it stops being funny and becomes repetitive. Also, many of the stabs at humor are either obvious (gags about an obsessively worrying Jewish mother) or needlessly vulgar (Hannah wants to get plastic surgery to make her vagina more attractive).
It would have helped had Jewtopia aimed solely to make you laugh. Instead, it wants you to care about whether Christian and Adam find happiness. It's almost impossible to mix comedy this broad with pathos. The comedy undermines the pathos, and the pathos weighs down the comedy. Really, the only way to make this subject matter work is to make everything as broad and silly as possible, leaving out any attempts to engage the audience's empathy. A Blazing Saddles-ish take on it, if you will.
Every now and then, the movie tosses in a joke or random bit of absurdity that elicits a chuckle, and the cast (which also includes Jon Lovitz and Rita Wilson as Adam's parents and Tom Arnold as Hannah's dad) is certainly up to the comedic challenge. Jewtopia simply isn't consistent enough, though. Rather than finding a fresh approach to ethnic humor, it relies on tired old standbys that have lost their punch.
( 1/2 out of four)
Note: Jewtopia opens in theaters on September 20, and will be available on demand that same day. Check your favorite VOD provider for more information.
Jewtopia is unrated, but contains adult language and sexual situations. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.
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