Eugene Weekly : Movies : 6.12.08


Hair, Hummus, Hamas
Adam Sandler confronts all three in Zohan
by Jason Blair

YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN: Directed by Dennis Dugan. Written by Adam Sandler, Robert Smigel and Judd Apatow. Cinematography, Michael Barrett. Music, Rupert Gregson-Williams. Starring Adam Sandler, John Turturro, Emmanuelle Chriqui and Rob Schneider. Columbia Pictures, 2008. PG-13. 113 minutes.

Adam Sandler in  You Don’t Mess With the Zohan

The first thing you should know about You Don’t Mess With the Zohan is that Will Ferrell doesn’t appear in it. The second thing you should know is that, because Will Ferrell isn’t in it, Zohan achieves something unexpected: Against the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a light comedy with a gently mocking spirit emerges, a spirit innocent of the bitterness so endemic to the films Ferrell and his ilk are making lately. Considering the subject matter, Zohan is a near-miracle of tone, carrying its sweetly misplaced nostalgia throughout, as if The Wedding Singer partnered with Zoolander and auditioned for Once Upon a Time in America. Zohan is stupid in places, of course, and nowhere near as uproarious as it should have been, but it is also ebullient, amusing and fun. It does more to further the peace process than President Bush ever could.

Zohan (Adam Sandler) is an Israeli counterterrorist, albeit an overextended one. He’s elite in every way: From his hackey sack prowess to his martial arts skills, from beach parties to the bedroom, there’s no one more dexterous or desirable than Zohan. But the Zohan is tired of all the slaying, literally and otherwise, so while in combat against his nemesis the Phantom (an easygoing John Turturro), Zohan fakes his death and escapes to the relative security of New York. Armed with a Paul Mitchell style book from 1987, Zohan sets out to indulge his one great passion, which is to cut and style hair. (Or “hay-arhh,” in his accent, which Zohan insists is “Hauhstralian.”) A series of failed attempts ensue — he subdues dreadlocks with the vigor of an animal trainer, but resorts to pinching a child unconscious — until Zohan hip-thrusts his way to Rafaela’s, a salon owned by the beautiful and impossibly single Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui, from Entourage). There, Zohan becomes a sensation by lavishing attention on mature women, perfecting the “cut and bang” routine — meaning cut and style, then sex.

Then the subplots proliferate. There’s a subplot about bad blood between Zohan and a taxi driver (Rob Schneider, whose last name rhymes with “retire”). Another subplot pits a hotel developer against Dalia, a Palestinian, who refuses to sell her salon. Finally, the Phantom descends upon New York to dispatch Zohan, this time for good. You get the idea: The ship runs aground at this point, scattering cameos, like jewels into the mud, by Dave Matthews, John McEnroe, George Takei and others. There’s a slight recovery during what amounts to a reconciliation scene between Jews and Muslims in the street — they’re sizing up John McCain’s wife — a sequence that will undoubtedly be talked about for years. There’s also a fitting dénouement to Zohan’s long-running hummus gag, which extends the Middle Eastern passion for hummus into frosting, styling gel and even fire retardant. But Zohan never quite regains the tempo of the early salon scenes. Loose in morals but relaxed in spirit, it still manages to do something remarkable, which is to filter the spiteful particulates from its source material while delivering some (mostly) clean fun in the process.

You Don’t Mess With the Zohan is now playing at Cinemark and VRC Stadium 15.