Dan Jacobson reviews spy-comedy ‘Mossad’ and reveals that it doesn’t live up to its humorous hype.
There is something particularly telling about the fact that this year’s UK Jewish Film Festival had around half the number of feature films as the London Film Festival, yet three times the number of comedies. And maybe, unlike some of the comedies at LFF (I’m looking at you, Kajillionaire), these films might have actually been funny.
Mossad, the new film about Israel’s national central intelligence agency by Alon Gur Arye, belongs to one of my absolute favourite film genres – those dedicated to enriching every single moment with humour. I love movies like this because you don’t just rely on solely the performances or dialogue to provide the comedy. Instead, it’s clear that the filmmaker has considered everything, from the scene transitions to the promotional material, and asked themselves “How can we make this funny?” The most famous example of this is likely Airplane! (1980), of which one of the directors, David Zucker, acted as a creative consultant on Mossad. Indeed, in the film’s trailer, it is dubbed as “from the friends of the creators of The Naked Gun“, which warranted a giggle from me at least.
With Mossad, all I was asking for was a remake of the encyclopaedia of funny-moments-and-where-to-find-them that was Airplane! and, for the first five minutes or so, I was curiously hopeful. The opening scenes employed the campy, amateur-ish aesthetic that demands the audience not take what they’re about to see too seriously. This included a series of excellent trying-to-be-secret-whilst-being-very-obvious gags, the use of the screen’s dimensions as a secret passage, and Bond-style text showing the scene’s locations, only for the letters to be picked up by the protagonist and thrown at his aggressors. I, for one, was loving it.
Alas, the rest of Mossad is, frankly, bad. For posterity’s sake, it is probably worth mentioning that the film has something to do with the kidnapping of an American tech billionaire as revenge for forced labour. But, to quote Airplane!: “that’s not important right now”. Many of the jokes I was hoping for (product placement, celebrity cameos, etc.) are shown in the trailer, which frankly might be my fault. These moments are examples of a series of fourth-wall breaks (“There are three armed guards, the rest are friends of the producer”) which, despite my really wanting to love them, ended up feeling forced. There’s a bit about Zoom backgrounds which is sort of funny, and the character ‘Aaron-Man’ (half-machine, half-Ashkenazi) could have been fun. But, disappointingly, the film didn’t really elicit more than the odd pity-chuckle.
This is a shame, because the Mossad organisation, and the ultra-Israeli, ‘sabra’ culture and stereotype which it epitomises, are ripe for satire. Adam Sandler’s Don’t Mess With The Zohan, which has become almost sacrosanct within the Jewish community, is a perfect example of this. Mossad is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s most renowned and accomplished intelligence organisations, and is often regaled in great stories of heroism, most notably the capture of the Holocaust’s lead instigator Adolf Eichmann in 1960, and Operation Entebbe in 1976. However, their intrinsic secrecy, alongside their elaborate plans and seemingly recurrent theme of dress-up, sometimes conjures images of Jake Peralta more so than James Bond.
What Mossad taught me was that even if the key, overarching aim of your movie is the pursuit of humour above all else, you still need to have a plot. Airplane!, despite its abundance of absurdity, deep-cut references, and wilful inconsistencies, benefited from a clear, focused central story at its core. Whilst I am willing to admit that, in terms of both comic timing and delivery, some jokes may have been slightly lost in translation. But I don’t think that this makes up for a film whose constant stream of jokes is somewhat baffling. There are plenty of films, from Johnny English to Kingsman: The Secret Service, which do a great job of poking fun at both intelligence agencies and the spy thriller genre as a whole. Unfortunately, I would not consider Mossad to be one of them.