Review: ‘You Don’t Mess with the Zohan’

This is probably the most ridiculous premise yet for an Adam Sandler film, but fans of his previous body of work shouldn’t be disappointed with a return to pointless nudity and over-the-top absurdity.

“The Zohan” (Adam Sandler) is the top counter-terrorism agent in all of Israel and arch-rival to top Palestinian counter-terrorism agent “The Phantom” (John Turturro). After years of fighting back and forth across The Holy Land, all Zohan wants to do is migrate to America and realize his dream of becoming a stylist for Paul Mitchel in New York. After faking his own death, he manages to infiltrate a small salon under a fake identity to learn his trade from the owner, Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui), but when a wronged Palestinian immigrant named Salim (Rob Schneider) thinks he recognizes “The Zohan,” old rivalries flair up as Zohan’s former life finally catches up with him.

Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison productions has always gleefully churned out low-brow comedies for pure entertainment value, including critically-despised fare such as The Waterboy, Billy Madison, and the sort-of remake Mr. Deeds. His more serious attempts have fared better (50 First Dates, Spanglish) with critics, but Sandler seems more at home playing dress-up (with buddies John Turturro and Rob Schneider) and politically-incorrect finger-pointing while committing the same offenses the story lines target in others (we’re all just as bad, see?) Zohan provides all the classic crass and sass of older Sandler flicks but spent a lot more money doing it.

Zohan also dares to take on the taboo subjects of profiling, terrorism, and immigrant stereotypes. Loosely held together by a typical “evil land developer sowing distrust” plotline, Zohan wallows in a culture that most Americans shun and don’t want to learn anything about, but like all Sandler-flick conflicts, it usually just comes down to “we’re all kind of the same on the inside” when you drop all the pretense. At the same time, it’s peppered with the same bad-taste jokes that include terrorist recruitment hotlines, homemade bombs, and suspicious-looking multi-tasking cabbies. The problem with the film’s pacing is the same as any classic Sandler film (with everything grinding to a halt for the sake of a bad-taste sight gag), but would fans expect any less?

Personally (and in spite of their date-movie qualities), Happy Madison productions seem more well rounded when coupled with Drew Barrymore’s Flower Films productions, but there’s also a lack of bad-taste shock-value comedy films that Adam Sandler & friends fill very well. While this review may read like the confessions of a Sandler apologist, may I point out the loathsome all-Eddie Murphy comedies that inexplicably keep making enough money to keep making new ones. Here’s an idea for a film: Adam Sandler launches an all-out assault on an Eddie Murphy production (let the wackiness ensue).

(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)


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