You Don’t Mess with the Zohan

Review: Adam Sandler returns to his roots in a mildly diverting comedy.

Reviews by Jason Pirodsky

Adam Sandler stars as an Israeli commando-turned-NYC hair stylist in director Dennis Dugan´s You Don´t Mess with the Zohan, the kind gleefully obnoxious, over-the-top comedy we haven´t seen from the star since 2001´s Little Nicky. The movie doesn´t really work as intended – most of the comedy simply falls flat – but the cast and script have a kind of dogged persistence that just might win you over; jokes that didn´t work in the first place are repeatedly hammered into the ground and performed with such a rabid gusto that I found myself laughing, not really at the film, but at the notion that this kind of ribald stupidity even exists.

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan
Directed by Dennis Dugan. Starring Adam Sandler, John Turturro, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Nick Swardson, Lainie Kazan, Ido Mosseri, Rob Schneider, Dave Matthews, Michael Buffer, Charlotte Rae, Sayed Badreya, Daoud Heidami, Kevin Nealon, Robert Smigel, Dina Doron, Shelley Berman, Chris Rock, Mariah Carey, John McEnroe, George Takei, Bruce Vilanch, John Paul DeJoria. Written by Adam Sandler & Robert Smigel & Judd Apatow.
IMDb link

Zohan (Sandler) is a kind of super-heroic Mossad agent who can leap hundreds of feet in air, dispose of a countless number of terrorists with his bare hands, and drop a piranha down his Speedo to prove how tough he is. But despite his successes, he also yearns to become a hairdresser and make the world silky smooth, armed with a 1987 Paul Mitchell catalogue. He uses an incident with archenemy The Phantom (John Turturro) to fake his own death and travel to New York City, where the only job he can land is in a salon owned by Palestinian Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui). Now Zohan, impeccably disguised as Scrappy Coco, from Australia, provides 80´s hairstyling and a little something extra for elderly female patrons, who queue up down the street waiting for him. Threats come in the form of greedy land developer played by Michael Buffer – yes, ring announcer Michael Buffer, who has a great flair for this kind of thing despite limited screen time – and some Palestinian terrorists (including Sandler standby Rob Schneider), who recognize Zohan and call in The Phantom for assistance.

In structure, this 113-minute film is limp and nearly plotless and should have been at least 20 minutes shorter. A romantic subplot with Zohan and Dalia feels underdeveloped and arbitrary, and completely fails to payoff. Subplots involving The Phantom and the land developer are similarly underdeveloped. What we´re left with are countless and repeated gags involving Zohan´s libido, the various uses for hummus, hacky-sack with a cat, etc. You´ll either find this stuff funny or you won´t (most won´t), but you´ll be forced to sit through it. Over and over again. There´s a level of Monty Python at work in the repetition, though, and on rare occasions I sensed that the filmmakers are aware their movie isn´t funny, and perhaps, just perhaps, the Troma-like obnoxiousness could be taken as a kind of satire of your average Sandler flick.
The movie is also elevated above some of Sandler´s earlier comedies due to the subject matter, which presents a wonderfully subversive take on Arab/Israeli relations that many films wouldn´t dare to tackle. As opposed to the awkward and offensive way I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry handled homosexuality, the send-up of Middle Eastern conflict is so outlandish that it can´t be taken seriously. The film is, in turns, shameless, embarrassing, even cringe-worthy, but it´s pushed far enough past any boundaries that it failed to offend me. That´s hardly a glowing recommendation, but this is an Adam Sandler film.

In films like Punch-Drunk Love and Reign Over Me, Sandler has proven himself a talented actor who can be effectively molded to fit the vision of the director. In Zohan, that director is Dennis Dugan, the man behind Sandler vehicles Chuck and Larry and Big Daddy and Happy Gilmore, as well as The Benchwarmers and Beverly Hills Ninja and I won´t continue, except to say I don´t think he´s made a film that can objectively be considered ‘good´ (though I do have some fond memories of Brain Donors). Zohan doesn´t break that tradition, but it is, I daresay, one of the director´s better efforts.


Also opening: Kirk De Micco’s animated monkeys-in-space film Space Chimps (showtimes | IMDb). Screening in a Czech-dubbed version in Prague.

And: Susanne Bier’s highly acclaimed Oscar-nominated drama After the Wedding (showtimes | IMDb), starring Mads Mikkelsen. Screening in Dutch with Czech subtitles.

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