You Don’t Mess with the Zohan: Adam Sandler Comedy

“You Dont Mess With the Zohan,” the high-concept Adam Sandler comedy is not as bad as his previous picture, “I Now Pronounce you Chuck & Larry,” but it’s also not as funny or charming as some of his former movies, “Click,” “50 First Dates,” with Drew Barrymore, or “Anger Management,” with Jack Nicholson, not to mention “Billy Madison,” which has become a cult item among students.

It’s been a while since the gifted Sandler has made a decent picture–remember “Spanglish” or “Reign Over Me,” both artistic and commercial flops. But he is still a bankable star with a following, which guarantees that stupid as it is, “You Don’t Mess,” will make money and the Sandler movie cycle will continue.

At 41, though entering young middle-age, Sandler is still playing variations of the screen roles that had catapulted him to major stardom: the immature, or eternally adolescent male, who refuses to grow up. But his type is the sweet, unharming male, not the aggressive one, hence his appeal to both boys and girls.

Poorly directed and sharply uneven in humor and wit, “You Don’t Mess” is by turns silly, banal and crass, but in moments it’s also funny in preposterous and idiotic if not really outrageous ways. Overextending its welcome by at least half an hour, the comedy’s material is best suited for a sketch, or 90-minute-flick.

Since the script is co-written by Sandler, Robert Smigel (who penned “Triumph the Insult Comic Dog”), and Hollywood’s reigning king of comedy Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up,” “Superbad”), it’s hard to tell who did what. My guess would be that the bathroom humor (farting and so on) and childish goofiness are more a product of Sandler and company, as they have appeared in most of his pictures, and that the more overtly sexual and raunchy elements (shagging old ladies) are more reflective of the sensibility of Apathow and his comedy factory

The concept: Sandler stars as Zohan, a top Israeli commando who fakes his own death in order to pursue his dream of becoming a top New York hairstylist. However, though he wishes to put his life of counter-terrorism behind him, Zohan quickly finds out that it’s not so easy to escape ones roots–or rather politics. Enemies, both old and new, try to take him out, but in the end, they are forced to learn one lesson: You dont mess with the Zohan.

Superficially following in the footsteps of Warren Beatty in “Shampoo,” Sandler has deliberately cast himself as a hairdresser, a profession that still suffers from its gay connotations; whether the stereotype is factual or nor is secondary. And whereas Beatty slept with Hollywood most desirable women, Goldie Hawn, Julie Christie, and Lee Grant, and Carrie Fisher, Sandler’s hairdresser entertains ladies of a certain age and claims to enjoy it. Comparison between the two pictures should end right here, and I apologize to the fans of “Shampoo” (I am one of them) for mentioning Beatty’s sophisticated and biting satire of Beverly Hills in the late 1960s with Sandler’s fake comedy that’s only made to please his fans-and add to his bank account.

The filmmakers might defend their crude, often tasteless work for displaying “humanist” messages, including the notion of Israeli-Palestinian co-existence, and for exposing some racial, cultural, and national stereotypes. But deep down, they would have to acknowledge that the real motivation behind the picture is the need to keep a steady stream of Sandler confections. Tins might explain the actor’s productivity (if not creativity), averaging one or two pictures a year, including one released in the summer season.

Known throughout as “The Zohan,” Israeli fighter Dvir is his countrys most famous counter-terrorist. It turns out that the highly skilled and seemingly indestructible Zohan is equally adept with the ladies as he is with taking out his enemies, including his nemesis, Palestinian terrorist Phantom (John Turturro).

Zohan harbors a secret. Though he loves Israel, he’s tired of fighting, longing for opportunity to make a break from the army and express his creativity by becoming an artist, that is, a hairstylist. However, as long as he fights terrorism, Zohans dream is impossible. At night, he literally cries himself to sleep over images from Paul Mitchell’s 1987 stylebook, hidden in his bedroom.

The Zohan gets his chance when the Phantom resurfaces. Instead of taking him out, he fakes his own death and escapes, leading the delighted Phantom to believe that he has finally offed his rival. Stowing away on a plane to New York with grand dreams and minimal clothes on his back, The Zohan hides out in a cargo container with two dogs named Scrappy and Coco. His first stop is Paul Mitchell’s salon, where he takes on his cover identity, Scrappy Coco. He expects to be hired, only to encounter mockery for his provincial, outdated ways. However, the Zohan is not to be stopped in his quest to make the world, as he says, “silky smooth.”

After defending the meek Michael (Nick Swardson) in a traffic accident, the Zohan finds a place to stay, upstairs from Michael and his mother Gail (Lainie Kazan) in their Brooklyn apartment. That night, he attends his first American disco. Though insisting his name is Scrappy Coco, Zohan’s true identity is detected by Oori, an Israeli immigrant who recognizes his compatriot-hero, initially refusing to believe that the Zohan is alive and well and living in New York. The two bond, and Oori promises to keep the Zohans identity a secret.

Public Rejection ensues in one salon after another. The Zohan visits Oori at his electronics store, and is shocked to see that in this neighborhood, Israelis and Palestinians co-exist, living side-by-side in relative peace. Oori knows the place for the Zohan to get his foot in the door, a run-down salon with an older clientele. Theres just one catch, however, the place is on the Arab side of the street.

At first, The Zohan is hesitant. He came to the U.S. to get away from the fighting, and now he will be working for a Palestinian It does help that the salons owner Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui) is beautiful, even if she has her own reservations; after all, Scrappy Coco has no experience cutting hair.

Nonetheless, the Zohan is still an Israeli at heart, pursuing aggressively his dream until Dalia finally relents. Scrappy Coco might just be sweeping the floor for no pay, but it feels he is on his way to bigger things. Opportunity knocks, when one of Dalias hairdressers quits without notice, and the Zohan rises to the occasion. Though he is only capable of cutting styles from Paul Mitchell’s ancient book, his client, enraptured by the Zohans sexy talk and performance, loves the results. Word soon spreads among New Yorks older women: “See Scrappy Coco and you will leave the salon satisfied in more ways than one.”

For a while, everything is fine, and the Zohan is living his dream of making the world “silky smooth.” Business is booming, allowing Dalia to meet the exorbitant rent payments demanded by the blocks new owners. He’s even beginning a budding romance with Dalia, whose heart gradually melts.

Things change, when Salim (Rob Schneider), a Palestinian cabdriver with grudges against the former army commando, recognizes the Zohan and becomes determined to do him in. After a few misguided attempts at taking him out, Salim alerts the Phantom the Zohan is still alive. Soon, the infamous terrorist arrives in New York.
What the Zohan doesnt expect is that he and the Phantom will have to unite against a common enemy that threatens to tear the neighborhood apart.

The above plot only shows how Sandler and his loyal team are trying to adjust his old shtick, his established screen image, to timely issues, as was the case of “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry,” and though the new picture is not as offensive, it too contains more misfires and bad-taste jokes than one can tolerate in a 90-minute film.

The list of crude, unfunny jokes is too long to recreate here, but let me mention the torture of a cat, the shagging (as Austin Powers would say) of Mrs. Garrett, an old lady who’s 80, played by Charlotte Gray of the TV show “The Facts of Life,” close-ups of the Zohan’s bulging prosthetic penis. To justify the movie’s PG-13 rating, Sandler, as producer, co-writer, and star indulges in crude and sexual content, explicit language, tacky sight gags, and even nudity.

Ultimately, the well-intentioned message of co-existence doesn’t work because the comedy embraces rather than contests and denies racial and national stereotypes. Expect a deserved outcry from pro-Arab groups, which will be offended by the fact that white characters play Arabic roles, and do so in the most stereotypical way. As a cab driver, Rob Schneider, in heavy make-up and bad accent, is particularly offensive to the eyes and ears, as he was last year, as an Asian wedding planner in “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry.”

End Note

This movie represents Sandler’s fourth collaboration with director Dennis Dugan, who did “Big Daddy,” “Happy Gilmore,” and recent “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry.”


Zohan – Adam Sandler
Phantom – John Turturro
Dalia – Emmanuelle Chriqui
Michael – Nick Swardson
Gail – Lainie Kazan
Oori – Ido Mosseri
Salim – Rob Schneider
James – Dave Matthews
Walbridge – Michael Buffer


A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Columbia Pictures presentation, in association with Relativity Media, of a Happy Madison production.
Produced by Adam Sandler, Jack Giarraputo. Executive producers: Barry Bernardi, Robert Smigel.
Co-producer, Kevin Grady.
Directed by Dennis Dugan.
Screenplay: Adam Sandler, Robert Smigel, Judd Apatow.
Camera: Michael Barrett.
Editor: Tom Costain.
Music: Rupert Gregson-Williams; music supervisors, Michael Dilbeck, Brooks Arthur.
Production designer: Perry Andelin Blake.
Art directors: Alan Au, John Collins.
Set decorator: Ron Reiss.
Costume designer: Ellen Lutter.
Sound: Gary C. Bourgeois, Greg Orloff; supervising sound editors, Elmo Weber, Russ Farmarco.
Visual effects supervisor: Ryan Tudhope.

MPAA Rating: PG-13.

Running time: 114 Minutes