Movie Review: On ne rigole pas avec le Zohan
By Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
An Israeli-on-Arab version of "Shampoo," "You Don't Mess With the Zohan" is terrible in many ways, and shoddy in every way that has to do with filmmaking. But politically it's sort of interesting. This crass comic burlesque on Middle Eastern relations showcases Adam Sandler as a counterterrorism commando who fakes his own death so that he can leave the hate behind and concentrate on mousse.
Right down to its zingers aimed at Mel Gibson's post-DUI anti-Semitic tirade, it's the most explicitly Jewish of Sandler's projects to date - and that includes the Hanukkah bash "Eight Crazy Nights." Last year's Sandler vehicle, "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry," simultaneously exploited and decried homophobia. Similarly, "Zohan" simultaneously exploits and decries anti-Arab sentiment, right up until the moment we're handed an image of Israeli-Arab solidarity as the warring factions unite against the real enemy. Who is the real enemy? American greed, in the form of a venal real estate developer modeled on Donald Trump, determined to gentrify the living daylights out of post-9/11 Lower Manhattan.
The premise is agreeably insane. For years, commando Zohan (Sandler) and his nemesis, the Palestinian terrorist and fast-food franchise maven Phantom (John Turturro, mugging like there's no tomorrow) have been going at each other like an endlessly renewed Six-Day War. But Zohan harbors dreams of leaving the hate behind and jetting off to America to cut and style hair. Soon he's doing just that, as well as dallying with his grateful customers, apparently all cast-offs from the Rolodex once belonging to Max Bialystock.
Sex with the aging female clientele is one thing, but the soft center of "Zohan" is supplied by the cross-cultural romance between Zohan and his salon's Palestinian owner (Emmanuelle Chriqui), not so far away in spirit from the Jew-on-Catholic mash-up of "Abie's Irish Rose" nearly a century earlier. Mainly, the film is a shrill, broad cartoon, heavy on the gross-out and the jokey brutality. Director Dennis Dugan (who hacked his way through "Chuck and Larry") parks the camera and records such sights as Arab and Jew squaring off in a game of ping-pong with a hand grenade. Later, we see a group of fellows playing hacky-sack with a live cat. Later still, there's a deft parody of the "Rocky" training montage, and who would've thought that was possible? Also, Rob Schneider trades his simpering caricature of an Asian-American in "Chuck and Larry" for a rageful Muslim cabbie, desperate to join Hezbollah. Offensive? Of course. I just wish it were funnier: The ideas and some of the individual bits in "Zohan" work, but the crudeness of the execution undermines the results.
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content throughout, language and nudity).
Running time: 1:53
Starring: Adam Sandler (Zohan Dvir); John Turturro (Phantom); Emmanuelle Chriqui (Dalia); Lainie Kazan (Gail); Rob Schneider (Salim).
Directed by Dennis Dugan; written by Adam Sandler, Robert Smigel and Judd Apatow; photographed by Michael Barrett; edited by Tom Costain; music by Rupert Gregson-Williams; production design by Perry Andelin Blake; produced by Sandler and Jack Giarraputo. A Columbia Pictures release.