You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (2008) Movie Review

Zohan is Israel’s greatest commando and not-so secret weapon, and in-between capturing his nemesis The Phantom and other assorted scumbag villains of Israel, he vacations in Brazil, where he cooks fish in the nude and likes to shove things into his butt crack. And although dispatching of bad guys is as easy as breathing for our hero, killing is not how he wants to spend the rest of his life. No, Zohan has bigger plans. He wants to cut hair. For people. Without, you know, sticking a knife in their jugular afterwards. Alas, no one understands his need to make people’s hair silky smooth, and so during a mission to re-capture The Phantom, Zohan takes the opportunity to fake his own death and jet off to New York to pursue his dreams.

In New York at last, Zohan fails to get hired by his idol, Paul Mitchell, but does make friends with hapless bicyclist Michael (the extremely funny Nick Swardson), which includes the scene from the trailer where Zohan Billy Jacks a rude businessman’s face. Zohan then promptly lays wood to Michael’s mom because, you know, it’s just the right thing to do. He also encounters some familiar faces, like Salim (Rob Schneider), a former terrorist turned, of course, New York cabbie, and Oori (Ido Mosseri), a fellow countrymen. Eventually, he meets the beautiful Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui), whose Palestinian hair salon he grudgingly goes to work at in order to live out his dream. As he tries to find his way, Zohan must survive other mysteries of New York, such as weaves, loud kids, gay Asians, and the Bermuda Triangle-like draw of an Israeli-own electronics store.

Long review short: if you’re an Adam Sandler fan, this is another hit for him. If you never “got” him, then you probably won’t get him and crotch-thrusting ways in this one. Zohan is a completely silly character, a Superman able to snatch bullets out of the air, drop piranhas into his briefs, and most impressive of all, sneak into the U.S. in a dog crate. Yup, American airport security has definitely improved since 9/11. “Zohan” features some famous cameos — Chris Rock as a Jamaican cabbie, Henry Winkler rides a limo, former Saturday Night Live guys Robert Smigel hawking faulty electronics and Kevin Nealon as a Guardian Angel wannabe. The bad guy is played by boxing announcer Michael Buffer as a greedy, evil developer who likes to brag about his trophy wife’s perfect proportions.

“Zohan” doesn’t even try to play it safe, and easily gets away with Jewish jokes because all three writers, including star Sandler, are Jewish. Not that “Zohan” leaves the Arabs untouched; the film takes a couple of nice shots for comedic effect, including the expected goat gags. Really, how could you do a comedy about Arabs and not throw a goat or two in there? It just makes good joke writing sense. Rob Schneider probably has his biggest role in a Sandler movie to date, and his Salim has a couple of nice moments, such as when he and his buddies, plotting Zohan’s downfall, calls Hezbollah’s hotline for advice on the procurement of terrorist material. They end up with Neosporin, by the way.

The film’s funniest bits have to be the Nick Swardson scenes, in which Swardson’s character must endure the life-scarring embarrassment of Zohan putting it to his mom on a nightly basis, and them telling him all about it at dinner. Mariah Carey also manages to both live up to her diva personality and make fun of herself in a cute cameo toward the end.

By the time The Phantom learns that Zohan isn’t really dead and shows up in New York for a hacky sack tournament, the film has pretty much stomp most of its gags into the ground, including Zohan’s “back room” special service to the old ladies of the neighborhood. Yes, in case you were wondering, the special service involves Zohan having sex with them. That is, until he realizes that Dalia is the only woman for him, which is signaled by his inability to get it up and stick it to the old broads. Later, the Israelis and Palestinians find common ground when Evil White Southerners With Mullets ™ try to burn down their neighborhood at the request of Michael Buffer.

What did you expect, “Gone with the Wind” in Hebrew?

“You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” has plenty of laughs, so fans of Sandler should get their money’s worth. The film is pretty crude, with sexual jokes sticking out of every orifice, and needless to say, the script by Sandler, Smigel, and Judd Apatow is way out there. Sander throws himself into the role with wild abandon, as you’d expect, he did come up with the character years ago, after all. Meanwhile, poor Emmanuelle Chriqui seems lost as the film’s straight man; or maybe she’s just mystified into barely-acting status by the unGodly amount of atrocious accents on display, including her own. The big notable is that Rob Schneider finally has more than a 1-second scene in a Sandler movie, and manages to get some laughs, which hopefully won’t lead into “Deuce Bigelow 3: The Deuce Bag is Back”. One can only hope.

Dennis Dugan (director) / Adam Sandler, Robert Smigel, Judd Apatow (screenplay)
CAST: Adam Sandler … Zohan
John Turturro … The Phantom
Emmanuelle Chriqui … Dalia
Nick Swardson … Michael
Lainie Kazan … Gail
Ido Mosseri … Oori
Rob Schneider … Salim
Dave Matthews … James

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