By Gabe Toro | The Playlist September 22, 2013 at 10:03AM
One gets flummoxed when forced to discuss something like “Jewtopia,” the existence of which we’d all like to disavow. Based on the sort of off-Broadway play best suited to people who hate theater, this embarrassing cocktail of racial obliviousness nonetheless has amassed a considerable cast of established names to sully themselves for the sake of gags that would be booed out of the writer’s room for a Chuck Lorre sitcom. So it’s got that going for it: if you like moderately big names regardless of the context, then “Jewtopia” merits a hearty recommendation.
The thoroughly unlikable Ivan Sergei is Christian, a dim-witted son of an army dad (Peter Stormare, inexplicably continuing to play American southerners) who harbors a fetish for Jewish girls. His reasoning, that he wants the theoretically-controlling shishka bride to control and adjust every part of his life, is maybe the least offensive racial stereotype that peppers his stew. The movie strains to make him a red state Catholic, but he wears his NASCAR jacket the way a monkey would wear a top hat, at ease and ill-adjusted. Never mind the fact that Sergei’s looks are already fairly ethnic, with his protruding lips and strong eyebrows: odd that casting would be one of many balls this production seeks to drop.
Christian (har har!) almost immediately falls in love with Allison, because she’s Jewish and because she’s played by Jennifer Love Hewitt. But before this courtship can begin, he has to convince the girl he believes is a complete JAP (his words) that he himself is also Jewish. In addition to the most tired of clichés—this being a romantic comedy based on a lie—Christian also clearly hasn’t planned out any of his lies, forcing him to improvise the dumbest garbage that spills out of his head. Looks like it’s time for a little Jew Training!
Christian reunites with his childhood best friend Adam (Joel David Moore), who proceeds to give him a crash course in fulfilling the worst and most embarrassing Jewish stereotypes one can have. Moore looks actively embarrassed to be acting out ways that Sergei’s loverboy must pretend to be a completely obnoxious ass in order to win his girl’s heart; even more insulting, Allison almost seems charmed when they go out to dinner and Christian (or “Avi”) requests a million alterations on a dish, then rudely sends it back because Jewish people “never eat what we order” according to Adam’s training. “Jewtopia,” clearly building bridges between cultures.
Allison is not an imbecile, so when she grows suspicious, “Avi” befriends her mother (Wendie Malick) and effectively worms his way so deep into Allison’s heart that she’s ready to have sex. Christian realizes he’ll need to be circumcised in order to be fully convincing, so he opts for surgery in order to preserve one of the stupidest lies in cinematic history. Meanwhile, his surgery is mirrored by the vaginoplasty sought by Adam’s bridezilla-to-be, Hannah (Jamie-Lynn Sigler). Hannah’s hard-driving folks (Tom Arnold, Camryn Manheim) are pushing this marriage hard, and Adam, similarly brow-beat by his folks (Jon Lovitz, Rita Wilson), is beginning to have second thoughts. If you're unsure as to how much shtick results from this, then it might be just the right amount of shtick for you.
Under the direction of Bryan Fogel, “Jewtopia” is hopelessly cheap and stage-bound in a way that pushes the jokes to a higher and more intolerable pitch. It’s supposed to be amusing when Christian’s father and brothers are in warpaint in what’s supposed to be Afghanistan, plotting maneuvers against made-up Muslim names while under a tent clearly located in Southern California. It’s also supposed to be amusing when they emerge in someone’s bedroom an hour later, teleported in full gear and ready to catch someone in an embarrassingly compromising position. There’s a whole lot of “supposed to be amusing” here, but it’s buried under disastrous jokes about marrying into a Jewish family, the kind of stuff that feels like self-hatred rather than the self-mockery coming from so many Jewish performers.
All the way, you keep waiting for Christian to get his just desserts, or maybe to be pushed to the side and replaced by an actual interesting and likable protagonist. About an hour in, if you haven’t walked over to the nearest stove and shoved your head inside, the sinking feeling sets in that you’re stuck with this unpleasant asshole. It’s equally off-putting when the racial caricature extends not only to Christian’s Hispanic co-workers (“JOU are not JEW!”), an aggressive Jamaican nurse and Adam’s Mongolian lover, which gives a chance for Lovitz to casually mispronounce a potential in-laws name by ending it with, “whatever.” Why “Jewtopia” would seem like a place worth visiting is a mystery. [F]