Israeli counter-terrorist Zohan (Adam Sandler, "Reign Over Me") is the world's best, but when he discovers his country has traded Palestinian terrorist The Phantom (John Turturro, "Mr. Deeds," "Transformers") who must now be recaptured, Zohan decides he has had enough of the eternal fighting. Faking his death during his attack on The Phantom, Zohan travels to New York City to fulfill his dream of becoming a John Mitchell hair stylist under his new moniker Scrappy Coco. But when he can only get a job in a Palestinian salon in danger of being eradicated by real estate developer Walbridge ("Let's get ready to rumble!" ring announcer Michael Buffer), both those who begin to recognize him and those who look to close shopowner Dalia's (Emmanuelle Chriqui, "Wrong Turn," HBO's "Entourage") business discover "You Don't Mess with the Zohan."
Adam Sandler is one of the most frustrating talents in the movie business. He has shown his acting chops in films like the criminally overlooked "Reign Over Me" and his romantic comedy abilities in films from "The Wedding Singer" to "Fifty First Dates," but it is the signature Happy Madison productions where Sandler is always compromised. Surrounded by his frat boy arsenal of regulars from perennial Rob Schneider to Henry 'the Fonz' Winkler to director Dennis Dugan ("Big Daddy," "National Security," "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry"), Sandler's material is always pushed too far, blunting its impact for all but the least discerning. That said, "You Don't Mess with the Zohan," while its structure is undisciplined and its story (scripted by Sandler, Judd Apatow and Robert 'Triumph the Insult Comic Dog' Smigel) borrowed from everything from "Barbershop 2" to the 2006 Live Action Short nominee "West Bank Story," has some laugh out loud moments and enough routing interest in Sandler's Zohan to make it marginally recommendable.
Zohan's superhuman abilities are established as he vacations on a beach, hacky-sacking beyond belief, playing badminton while grilling fish in the nude, always ready for a disco break (one of the film's consistently amusing bits). Back home, Zohan dares to tell his parents that his dream is to move to New York and become a hairdresser. Both erupt into giggles and call him a 'faigele.' In NYC, he's laughed out of Paul Mitchell's salon for his 80's look and inexperience, but is recognized by Oori (Ido Mosseri, "Offside") who offers him a job in his electronics shop. After striking out on his own, Zohan/Scrappy (his alias is the combined names of two sheep dogs he styled during transatlantic stowaway in storage) turns to Oori who persuades him to try the Arab shop across the street. Scrappy becomes the world's most over-efficient, unpaid floor sweeper until one of Dalia's stylists quits and he gets his shot.
This begins one of the film's running gags which wear out its welcome, even though it's pretty damn funny the first time around. Scrappy takes a senior citizen to the sink and makes like Paris Hilton's burger commercial. Even the first time, the filmmakers take it over the edge of anything resembling taste by having him 'service' her afterwards in the back room. Soon women of a certain age are lining up. Two of them take a cab and Palestinian cab driver Salim (Rob Schneider, "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry"), whose goat was stolen by Zohan, spies him and is inspired to become a national hero by taking him out. To round out the 'let's all live together in peace' message at the film's core, an evil real estate developer is brought in so that the climax will see both sides teaming together (Zohan also romances Dalia).
For every gag that works (the Hezbollah hotline, a senior pharmacist's interpretation of Salim's heavily accented request for liquid nitrogen and Oori's 'Going Out of Business' store among the best) there are those that fall flat (the use of hummus (Tribe brand!) for everything from hair gel to fire extinguisher, using a cat for hacky sack, Winkler's complete non-sequiter appearance). Sandler gets some mileage out of Yiddish (a 'Fizzi-bubbli' softdrink, the Phantom's Muchentuchen fast food restaurant) and Zohan's collection of Mariah Carey t-shirts (she cameos). A Rocky montage seems lame until Turturro makes the silly most of it and there are a couple of good Mel Gibson shots.
The extensive cast is actually pretty good, excepting a horrifically amateur scene at a Walbridge board meeting. Sandler's in top physical condition (most of his 'stunts,' such as catching bullets and outswimming a JetSki, are, of course, humorously exaggerated via movie magic) and despite his tendency towards crude sexual innuendo, gives Zohan his signature inner sweetness. Turturro and Schneider have a high old time hamming it up and Chriqui is an appealing love interest for the star. Besides those already mentioned, the cast also includes Lainie Kazan ("My Big Fat Greek Wedding," "Eight Crazy Nights") and Nick Swardson ("I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry," "Blades of Glory") in an unnecessary subplot, Charlotte Rae ("Bananas," TV's "Diff'rent Strokes") as a client and "Entourage's" Rex Lee as a stylist. Dave Matthews, Kevin Nealon, John McEnroe Kevin James, Chris Rock, George Takei and Bruce Vilanch appear in cameos.
With the talented eye of an experienced editor from outside the Happy Madison circle, "You Don't Mess with the Zohan" might have actually been good. As it is, it's hit and miss but should please fans of the Sandler genre.
Robin did not see this film.
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