Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer
As people filed out of my screening of You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, it was clear that everyone in attendance agreed on two things. The first was that we all were certain, well before the lights dimmed, that the movie was going to be a bomb. We had all seen the promos that laid out the paper-thin plot, we had all heard Adam Sandler’s bizarre accent, and we were all aware that Rob Schneider was in it. There was not a single person among us that saw potential for anything other than yet another mindless movie that was a comedy only in its Netflix categorization.
The second thing everyone agreed on was this: we were all wrong.
The plot of Zohan is as simplistic as it is bizarre: Adam Sandler plays Zohan, an Israeli soldier with supernatural battle skills, and a deep dark secret. It seems that no matter how many Palestinians he captures for his homeland, he can’t shake a burning desire to become a hair stylist. He gets his opportunity after a battle with his arch-nemesis The Phantom leaves everyone thinking him dead. He emigrates to America, where he is soon the most popular stylist in town, thanks to a seriously retro style and a willingness to have sex with each and every woman who sits in his chair. There are of course several other complications, including a love interest, an evil real estate developer and erectile dysfunction, but they serve less as plot elements as they do set pieces for Adam Sandler to play Adam Sandler being Adam Sandlery. In fact, the only thing at all surprising about You Don’t Mess with the Zohan is how well it actually works.
Right from the very beginning, you are treated to some great sight and verbal gags with Zohan in full shit-kicking mode. And while it is legitimately funny to see Adam Sandler dispatching his enemies while flying through the air, the movie really gets going once he hits New York. Zohan loses his massive crop of hair in favor of an Avalon do (apparently, Sandler can only truly relax in a movie when he and it are reverently mocking the 80s), and he begins romping through this Crocodile Dundee-meets-Midnight Cowboy premise. This section works best due to Zohan’s utter incredulity that his methods could be questioned. In Zohan’s eyes, it’s only natural to service his elderly customers like they’re whores, or to sleep with the mother of his new friend as a way to thank her for her hospitality. (I presume this is a false stereotype, unless Israelis, as a rule, all fuck their way indiscriminately through life). By the time the movie ultimately unravels during its messy (and stupid) final act, you have already had too much fun to care.
There are, naturally, several problems with this movie, but given its genre and star, it would be pointless to bring them up. For my money, the most interesting issue was in casting Sandler as an Israeli soldier fighting Palestinians. There is, quite obviously, some potentially touchy issues involved in casting an American in a role of this nature, and for my money, the filmmakers found a very innovative way to deal with them: cast no one appropriately. If Adam Sandler is going to play an Israeli super soldier, then why not cast Jon Turturro as his Palestinian counterpart? How about Rob Schneider as a Palestinian cab driver/wannabe terrorist? (Man, when is Sandler going to stop taking Schneider’s calls?) In fact, the only major cast member with any real ethnicity is Emmanuelle Chriqui as Zohan’s Palestinian’s love interest, though this is mitigated somewhat by the fact that she is French Moroccan Jewish Canadian. In this way, Sandler and company make a good claim for the subject matter being nothing more than good fun, even as they mine humor from attempting to make bombs and join terrorist cells.
All this said, if you walk into You Don’t Mess with the Zohan intent on hating it, then you will certainly find more than enough to make this true. However, all those with an open mind (or in my theater’s case, a closed mind with at least the willingness to be convinced otherwise), then you will be pleasantly surprised. Here are likeable characters in amusing if absurd situations. As formulas go, it’s hard to mess with that.