You Don't Want To Mess With The Zohan is a movie that may not appeal to anyone with PC-sensitivities, a gag reflex, or an education beyond the 7th-grade level. The film follows Zohan (Sandler), an Israeli counter-terrorism soilder who is tired of his violent lifestyle and dreams of leaving Israel to cut hair (in the style of Paul Mitchell circa 1987) so he moves to New York where he is hired as a hairdresser by a beautiful Palestinian woman (Emmanuelle Chriqui) where he makes up for his lack of hairdressing experience by servicing the older female clientèle. Hilarious, right? After being discovered by a Palestinian cabbie (Rob Schneider) Zohan must battle his old enemies, as well as a greedy developer for some reason. Oh, and Mariah Carey makes an appearance! Surprisingly, this movie is co-written by Judd Apatow, whose silly-with-a-heart style of comedy had helped turn Sandler into one of the biggest comedians of the '90s. Why did Sandler and Apatow make this movie? That seems to be the question on the reviewers' minds, who can't decide if they love the film or hate it. The reviews after the jump.
Sandler plays the title character as an over-the-top cross between Paul Bunyan, Rambo, and Warren Beatty in Shampoo. He catches bullets with his nostril, swims like a dolphin, has what appears to be an overweight groundhog in his shorts, and is able to instantly transform a volley of stones hurled at him by angry Palestinian kids into a charming rock animal. To borrow a phrase from Mr. Show, Zohan repeatedly brings moviegoers to the verge of laughter, only to leave them there; it's sure to inspire plenty of embarrassed smiles but few belly laughs, unless audiences find the unconventional use of hummus, hacky-sack, and disco-dancing (three of the film's limp running gags) inherently hilarious. Sandler's famously easy-to-please fans will certainly find it amusing, but for anyone over the age of 12, it's considerably more goofy than good.
"Subtle" and "maturity" may seem like odd words to use about a movie that wrings big laughs from pelvic gyrations, indoor Hacky Sack and filthy-sounding fake-Hebrew and -Arabic words. But much as it revels in its own infantilism, You Don't Mess With the Zohan is also brazenly self-confident in its refusal to pander to the imagined sensitivity of its audience. In this it differs notably from Albert Brooks's Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, which approached some of the same topics with misplaced thoughtfulness and tact. I suppose some Middle East policy-scolds may find reasons to quarrel with Zohan, either for being too evenhanded or not evenhanded enough in its treatment of Israelis and Palestinians. Did I mention that it's a comedy?
As a commando-turned-hairdresser with superheroic strength and a supersized crotch, Adam Sandler gets the Israeli accent and the disco swagger just right. Laughs are less of a sure thing in You Don't Mess With the Zohan, but the comedy star's legions of fans will welcome the cheerfully crude proceedings as a return to silliness after several earnest, lower-key character turns. The melange of Middle East diplomacy, action absurdity, sexual healing and, when in doubt, hummus, wavers between muscular and middling. It's a surefire hit.
There is… about enough novelty to fill a seven-minute sketch, most of it relating to the sweetness with which Sandler initially presents himself as a curly-haired, hyper-macho Israeli super-Jew. This proudly Semitic James Bond is good to his parents (Shelley Berman plays Zohan's papa like a pussycat compared with the kibitzing the old pro gave Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm), good to the tawny, bikinied Tel Aviv girls who flirt with him, good to his Israeli comrades, and even good to the little Arab kids whose villages he's sometimes forced to disrupt on the hunt for terrorists. Everything he loves about his country is summed up in his love of hummus; he even brushes his teeth with the stuff. There are at least as many hummus visual jokes in this movie as there were ancient tribes in Israel.
In You Don't Mess With the Zohan, Adam Sandler manages to stereotype pretty much everyone in the Western Hemisphere. It's not like he's bravely confronting political correctness by reveling in expressing the nastiest stereotypes; it's more like he hasn't heard of political correctness and is unfamiliar with the concept of stereotypes in the first place. His mind is stuck at the 8-year-old level.
But politics of some sort is never far from view, and just as I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry ended on a didactic note, so too You Don't Mess with the Zohan has scenes in which Israelis and Arabs vent all their frustrations, peacefully and verbally, before finding that they agree on the sexual allure of various presidents' and senators' wives. But while all these racial and cultural barriers are being broken, two easy stereotypes remain firmly intact: the evil white businessman, and the evil white redneck.
'You Don't Want To Mess With The Zohan' opens today, nationwide.