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By Phil Hall | October 14, 2005

In watching the German slapstick movie “Go for Zucker!”, I couldn’t help but remember an exchange between Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan from the classic BBC radio comedy series “The Goon Show.” Sellers rhetorically asked: “Who says we Germans don’t have a sense of humor?” To which Milligan responded: “Just about everybody.”

“Go for Zucker!” is perhaps one of the unfunniest comedies ever to cross the Atlantic. It created a stir in its native country for making a Jewish family the focus of the action. This marks the first time, as far as anyone can recall, when German cinema released a Jewish comedy. The German magazine Der Spiegel nodded its approval by noting: “The audience is not laughing at the Jews but together with them. This is definitely a step in the right direction.”

It might be a step in the right direction for sociological reasons, but in watching “Go for Zucker!” I cannot imagine why anyone (Jewish, Christian, or any other faith) would want to laugh at this anemic, enervated farce. “Go for Zucker!” takes two of the oldest concepts of bad comedy (pretending to be something you’re not to appease visiting companies and trying to mend prodigal ways to secure a fortune) and makes them seem older due to sloppy writing, pathetic directing and very bad acting.

Jacky Zucker (nee Zuckerman) was a sports broadcaster during the heyday of Commie East Germany, but since reunification he has fallen into the depths of being a wildly unsuccessful gambler. In fact, he owes so much money that he is nearly arrested for back debts (the person who approves the arrest is his son, a banker). As luck would have it, he stands to gain a substantial inheritance after his mother passes away. But there is a catch – he needs to reconcile with his long estranged brother Samuel Zuckerman, an Orthodox Jew, for a seven-day mourning period known as shiva. The siblings have not spoken in almost four decades and Jacky (an unapologetic atheist Communist who disavowed his Jewish heritage many years earlier) is not looking forward to the reunion. Yet his wife, who is not Jewish, insists on taking a crash course in all things Jewish to make Samuel comfortable during the shiva period. Needless to say, endless goofs and confrontations occur.

“Go for Zucker!” would like to think of itself as being politically incorrect, but that’s only half right. There is nothing political here. It is just plain old incorrect – wrong in its stiff physical humor (all of the slapstick gags are telegraphed in advance, ruining their impact), wrong in director Dani Levy’s inability to block a scene or edit a sequence for full comic effect, and wrong in asking actors who cannot do comedy to attempt humorous situations. The plain fact is there absolutely nothing funny in the movie. The characters are all crass, boorish and shrill, and their endless bickering and lying is an endurance test. Henry Hübchen, as Jacky, is particularly obnoxious. Rather than have the audience secretly rooting for him despite his anti-social behavior (think of Rodney Dangerfield in “Easy Money,” for example), his character is so completely unlikeable that it is difficult to justify giving him any attention. As his wife, Hannelore Elsner is equally unappealing. Her abrupt mood changes are inane and unconvincing (first she abruptly kicks Jacky out for his gambling, then she takes him back and hurriedly tries to adapt to Jewish protocol), and the woman is such a terrible comic actress that she cannot put an alchemist’s spin on the material and turn gold from lead.

There may be less amusing comedies than “Go for Zucker!” in release, but I cannot think of any.

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