Guilty pleasure

The comedy team behind ‘Eretz Nehederet’ finds its way to the big screen to parody the biblical story of Sodom.

sodom311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
THIS IS SODOM (ISR) Directed by Adam Sanderson and Muli Segev. Written by Segev, David Lifshitz, and Asaf Shalman.95 minutes. Hebrew title: Zohi Sdom. In Hebrew.
Do you like Eretz Nehederet (Wonderful Country), the comedy show that is an Israeli version of Saturday Night Live? If so, you’re probably already planning to see This is Sodom, since it features the same cast, writers and directors as the television show. Like most of the movies based on Saturday Night Live sketches, this movie plays like an extended version of the show, the only real difference being the production values (the film is very lavishly produced), the biblical theme, and the fact that, unlike the show, the movie goes on a little too long. But running some of the jokes into the ground is to be expected in a movie made by people used to writing 10- minute sketches. The bottom line is: If you’re a fan of the show, this is the movie for you, and you already know it, since it has been rather aggressively hyped on Israeli television.
The real question is, what will those who either don’t like or aren’t familiar with the show make of This is Sodom? Since I fall somewhere between these two categories (I’ve only seen the show a couple of times and wasn’t that crazy about it), I’m pleased to report that the film was much better than I had expected. It combines stupid humor with wit and does so quite gracefully. And, truly, is there any Bible story that cries out for a modern parody more than Lot in Sodom? And is there any audience that will get the jokes better than Israelis, where even secular firstgraders know the biblical story in detail? It’s Eretz Nehederet meets Life of Brian, the Monty Python classic about Jesus, and that turns out to be a pretty good combination.
The framing device for this movie is that a traveling salesman (Eyal Kitzis), in modern dress, visits Abraham’s tent to sell him on Judaism. Mixing English phrases with his Hebrew in smooth tones (“Ein catch” – There’s no catch – he tells Abraham and Isaac), he explains all the benefits of embracing Judaism, while Abraham chows down on notyet- forbidden shellfish. It sounds like a good deal to him, until the salesman mentions the plan to wipe out all of Sodom. When Abraham protests that his cousin is there and that he’s a good guy, the plot, such as it is, is set in motion. Two motorcycle cops are sent to check out Lot, and save him if in fact he is a good man. Lot, played by Dov Navon, is what most modern Israelis would call a freier (sucker). He runs a Lotto stand (one of the lamer jokes) and gets cheated right and left by the likes of a woman (Orna Banai) and her boyfriend, who pretends to be blind. But what’s funny here are the sinners and all the anachronisms, like a man hawking pirated DVDs with the come-on, “Movies for Yom Kippur!” The sin city stuff is fun although a bit raunchier than what they would get away with on TV – for example, a grandmother asks Lot’s help carrying some purchases home for her grandchildren who are spending the weekend, and she turns out to have a basket full of dildos. It’s that kind of movie.
The Eretz Nehederet regulars are all in fine form, especially Tal Friedman as Lot’s wife and Eli Finish as the evil ruler of Sodom. The Hebrew is as slangy as it comes, which is to say, it’s at least 10 percent in English. The movie was filmed abroad, in Bulgaria, and the sets are quite elaborate, especially the casino, which looks like something out of Las Vegas. But while it does drag in some spots, there is a good gag every five minutes or so to perk things up. And it certainly has something to offend everyone.
What will audiences abroad make of the film, if they ever get to see it? God only knows.