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Meet the Zuckers

Opens Fri., March 3

In East Germany, Jaeckie Zucker (Henry Hübchen) was a star. Once a popular sportscaster, Zucker still carries the photograph around in his wallet that testifies to his former celebrity status.

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But in the new, unified Germany, Zucker (born Jakob Zuckermann) is just a shady, pool-hustling nobody trying to scramble out of his gambling debts, with a long-suffering wife (Hannelore Elsner) and two grown children who despise him. If he can only raise the registration fee, and keep out of debtor's prison, Zucker may have a chance at winning the European pool tournament he imagines is the answer to all his problems.

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Zucker's angst meter skyrockets when his mother dies in Frankfurt and his estranged Orthodox Jewish brother, Samuel (Udo Samel), and his family arrive in Berlin for the funeral.

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His mother's will stipulates that the feuding brothers must sit shiva, a Jewish funeral rite, together and mend their relationship to collect their inheritance.

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Director Dani Levy's loopy farce Go for Zucker, which was a hit in its native Germany, concerns the collision of multiple Germanys: a country where Jewish citizens live in a land tainted by the events of World War II, and former advocates of the Communist state such as Zucker find themselves floundering under capitalism.

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Though the premise is highly specific — even exotic — to an American audience, the slapstick dynamics of the film are as conventional and bland as airplane cuisine. The culture clash, including some very un-PC caricatures of its Jewish characters, is overstated in the extreme and depends on copious manufactured "hilarity." Take, for instance, the scene where pious Samuel accidentally ingests some of his lesbian daughter-in-law's Ecstasy, which causes him to dance and groove like a club kid. Trying to bring his manic brother back down to earth, Zucker takes him to a seedy nightclub staffed by hostesses in skimpy attire. Levy milks yet another opposites-attract scenario when a sexy Palestinian belly dancer introduces Samuel to the universal language of erotic massage.

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The culture clashes continue, as well as the Startling Revelations! and Heartwarming Reconciliation! that fuel the international Euro-pop cinema of the painfully obvious. Opens Fri., March 3, at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema. In German with English subtitles. 2 stars