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You Donít Mess with the Zohan
Strictly for Adam Sandler Fans
by Mel Valentin on Jun 06, 2008
The ubiquitous Adam Sandler (almost twenty lead roles in just over ten years) is back with You Donít Mess with the Zohan, a broad comedy about a disco-loving, Israeli Mossad agent who really just wants to be a hairdresser (and heís straight). Tackling thorny representation issues with all the subtlety of wellÖan Adam Sandler comedy, You Donít Mess with the Zohan contains enough vulgar, crude jokes to keep Sandlerís fanbase engaged for its overlong 110-minute running time. And if youíre not a Sandler fan, youíll end up thinking up ways to get your money back.
Whisked away from a much-needed vacation, Zohan (Sandler), Israelís best field agent gets pulled back by the Mossad for one more mission, the recapture of Zohanís longtime enemy, the Phantom (John Turturro). Understandably miffed at the seemingly endless rounds of violence between Jews and Arabs, Zohan reveals his hairdressing aspirations to his elderly parents. They promptly accuse him of being, in their words, a ďfagula". Spurned by his uncomprehending parents, Zohan goes on the mission to capture the Phantom, but fakes his own death so he can make good his escape to the United States.
After giving himself a haircut taken directly from a Paul Mitchell book (circa 1985), Zohan tries to get a stylist gig with Mitchell himself. Twenty years out of date in hairdressing trends and fashions, Zohan encounters a seemingly endless series of rejection. A chance encounter with a bicyclist, Michael (Nick Swardson), and an enraged driver gains Zohan a new friend, a place to stay, and a uniquely odd relationship with Michaelís Gail (Lainie Kazan). After almost giving up, Zohan gigs a gig sweeping floors at a fashion salon owned and operated by Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui), a Palestinian woman. Before long, Zohanís cutting and styling the hair of Daliaís elderly clientele and servicing them afterwards.
Sandler co-wrote You Donít Mess with the Zohan with Judd Apatow (Superbad, Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin) and longtime SNL scribe Robert Smigel. Although he has more than 400 episodes to his credit, Smigel is best known for creating Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog (a staple on Late Night with Conan OíBrien), TV Funhouseís "The Ambiguously Gay Duo", and the infamous William Shatner ďGet a LifeĒ skit. With Apatow and Smigel onboard and a high-concept premise in hand, You Donít Mess with the Zohan had potential.
Unfortunately, all that talent and experience didnít get this film very far. Zohanís fish-out-of-water routine gets old fast, as does the running gag of Zohan providing sexual services to women collecting their retirement pensions. Itís subversive, sure, but really who wants to repeatedly imagine Adam Sandler having sex with women old enough to be his grandmother? The ethnic-based humor isnít as offensive as it could have been, but it also tends to fall flat for its obviousness. Itís early on, when Zohan is in superhero-without-a-cape mode that You Donít Mess with the Zohan is at its most inventive (and its funniest). Once Zohan embarks on his hairstyling career, weíre ďtreatedĒ (well okay, the opposite of ďtreatedĒ) to Zohan making lewd advances or dry humping old women.
Sandler tapped longtime collaborator Dennis Dugan (I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, Big Daddy, Happy Gilmore) to direct You Donít Mess with the Zohan. Dugan offers little in the way of visual invention or style. To be fair, though, the real filmmaker in Hollywood comedies isnít the director or even the writer, but the comic actor in front of the camera and for better or for worse (mostly worse), You Donít Mess with the Zohan is Adam Sandlerís film. Not even the long string of cameos by fellow SNL alums (e.g. Kevin Nealon, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider) or celebrities (e.g. Kevin James, John McEnroe, Mariah Carey) can do much to generate sufficient good will to salvage You Donít Mess with the Zohan.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
by Mel Valentin on Jun 06, 2008
images courtesy of Columbia Pictures
Adam Sandler as Zohan
Nick Swardson as Michael and Adam Sandler as Zohan