You Don’t Mess With the Zohan

Movie Information

The Story: An Israeli superagent goes to New York City to follow his dream of becoming a world-class hairstylist. The Lowdown: Despite a few laughs and a fair number of surprisingly subversive ideas, this is your standard-issue random, lazy, sloppy Adam Sandler comedy.
Score:

Genre: Comedy
Director: Dennis Dugan (I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry)
Starring: Adam Sandler, John Turturro, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Nick Swardson, Lainie Kazan, Rob Schneider
Rated: PG-13

The new Adam Sandler picture, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, isn’t all that different from any number of old Adam Sandler pictures. That’s to say that it’s not very good, and—unless you’re in Sandler’s teen fanboy demographic—you probably won’t find it terribly funny. It’s directed by Dennis Dugan, who’s helmed several Sandler films, but does that really even matter? Face facts, with the exception of Punch-Drunk Love (2002), it doesn’t matter who’s behind the camera, because Sandler—or Sandler and the fellows who make up the Sandlerizing machine—is the auteur.

What this means here is that the viewer is, once again, assaulted by raunchy jokes, the crudest of crude humor, a plethora of penis gags and a few doses of homosexual panic. Oh yes, and there are several assurances that Sandler is not gay (gay men everywhere can doubtless breathe a sigh of relief). A complete lack of pacing and comic timing, along with generally pointless roles for Sandler hangers-on, like Rob Schneider and Nick Swardson, complete the picture. The only addition Zohan brings to the comedy catalog is a bewildering array of gags involving hummus. These must have had Sandler and company rolling on the floor when the film was in development, but, apart from one that mimics Sandler having an orgasm, the audience at the showing I attended missed the inherent hilarity of hummus.

The film’s story finds Sandler as “The Zohan,” a Mossad superagent who wants nothing out of life but to move to New York City and become a hairdresser. (This, of course, sets up the “but not gay hairdresser” remarks, though admittedly in a more mature-than-usual fashion that’s pretty clearly modeled on the “gay boy” name-calling Sandler’s character receives in Punch-Drunk Love.) Since no one else but Zohan is keen on his idea of becoming a hairstylist, our hero fakes his death at the hands of Palestinian terrorist “The Phantom” (John Turturro) and hides his way to the Big Apple. He re-emerges (with a bad haircut) as Scrappy Coco (a name he appropriates from the dogs he stows away with), determined to make the world “silky smooth.” Of course, the world has not been waiting for him, so his dream is a lot harder to realize than he imagines. And irony of ironies (as far as a Sandler movie goes), he finds himself working in the beauty parlor of pretty Palestinian Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui, In the Mix). Hilarity, romance and possible peace in the Middle East ensue—theoretically.

While the results—hummus gags, terrorist bureaucracies, impossible physical comedy (do you really want to see Sandler catch a fish in his buttocks?) etc.—are pretty lame and lazily executed, there’s something not without interest going on here. When his last picture, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007), came out, I was prepared to give Sandler the benefit of the doubt that his barrage of dumb gay jokes were in part to pave the way for a sincere plea for gay acceptance—and not just because of the token gay cameo by Richard Chamberlain. It seemed to me then—and seems to me even more now (and again, not just because of a token gay cameo by George Takei in this film)—that Sandler was actually doing something pretty subversive to his fan base.

The gay acceptance message is here, too, but more “normalized.” Sure, everybody assumes that since Zohan wants to be a hairdresser, he must be gay (a silly stereotype in itself), but his desire to be a “hair homo” is viewed as no big deal. Moreover, the comeuppance of a redneck racist homophobe in the film is to deliver (propel really) the man into the midst of his own worst fears: a gay party. It’s a pretty good gag, but one wonders if Sandler’s core viewership pauses to realize what’s being addressed here.

Similarly, there’s the whole issue—addressed comedically, but not in a demeaning manner—of Zohan’s propensity to have sex with older women (ranging from 67-year-old Lainie Kazan to 81-year-old Charlotte Rae) by way of thanking them for any display of kindness (or simply as a follow-up to a haircut). I don’t know if this is quite Harold and Maude for the new generation (there’s no depth provided here), but I do know this is a concept apt to transgress on a teenager’s view of sex and what does or doesn’t make a woman desirable. It may do the same, for that matter, to Sandler’s own concepts, especially if you contrast Zohan with the “babe magnet” character he played in Chuck and Larry.

The film’s sexual politics are probably more interesting than its political politics, though there’s something admirable about Sandler daring to address the Israel-Palestine topic at all, or the perception that anyone from the Middle East (or anyone who might be construed as being from the Middle East) must be a terrorist. The problem with this—apart from the simplistic approach to it all—and the problem with the sexual politics lies in the fact that it’s all housed in a movie that’s just not good. And that’s too bad, because it’s all pretty interesting material. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, language and nudity.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

22 thoughts on “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan

  1. Dionysis

    I listened to a review of this film on NPR yesterday; it was about what you described here, along with a few minutes of Sandler’s ‘accent’, which made me wince.
    I am a bit surprised that you gave it two-and-a-half stars.

  2. BJ

    I don’t think anybody is going to read reviews for a movie before they see it. I know I didn’t, and I thought the movie was hilarious, and what’s not funny about hummus??!?!?!

    Nobody cares what Ken Hanke thinks about movies .. is this really your job?

  3. I don’t think anybody is going to read reviews for a movie before they see it. I know I didn’t, and I thought the movie was hilarious, and what’s not funny about hummus??!?!?!
    Nobody cares what Ken Hanke thinks about movies .. is this really your job?

    You know, if I were an AICN guy, I’d be calling “Plant!” right now. But I’m not, so I won’t.

  4. I was in the mood for a dumb comedy, so this was the first Sandler film that I ever paid money for.

    Yes, it’s moronic, but I found myself laughing more than I expected to. It’s worth a matinee price.

  5. Ken Hanke

    I am a bit surprised that you gave it two-and-a-half stars.

    Based solely on interesting elements. You are not the first person who raised that point, though, and the others had actually seen the movie. I told one of them that so far as I knew it was not possible to go to the box office and demand one’s brain cells back.

  6. Ken Hanke

    You know, if I were an AICN guy, I’d be calling “Plant!” right now. But I’m not, so I won’t.

    The broader issue is, I think, determining if anybody cares what a person calling himself “BJ” thinks.

  7. Ken Hanke

    It’s worth a matinee price.

    Good Lord, Marc, I got paid to sit through it and I’m not sure it was worth that.

  8. Gordon Smith

    If you like Sandler movies, you’ll like this one.

    And his take on Israeli/Palestinian relationships did provide the audience with characters and situation we don’t normally see. It wasn’t just the terrorist Palestinians and oppressed Jew stereotypes at work here. There’s nothing to reignite the Peace Process here, to be sure, but the handling of the interplay was interesting and refreshing.

    I’m not a big Sandler fan, but my wife and I were in the mood for a silly movie. Zohan fit the bill just fine.

  9. tatuaje

    I haven’t seen the movie and I’m pretty sure I won’t. Sitting through a preview was bad enough. I’ve never laughed at any of his movies. I just wanted to share the review of it that I read at Salon.com: http://www.salon.com/ent/movies/review/2008/06/06/zohan/
    She, Stephanie Zacharek, actually calls Zohan a braver movie than ‘Milan’!

    And there’s nothing more offensive in “Zohan” than the sequence in “Munich” in which Eric Bana — as a Mossad agent who’s trying to escape the violence of his past — makes love to his wife, as flashbacks of the murders of the Israeli Olympic team in 1972 in Munich run through his head. “Munich” was a fictionalized story set against a real-life backdrop of tragedy: Bana plays an agent assigned to avenge the kidnapping and murder of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September. In “Munich” — its first half, at least — Steven Spielberg attempts to wrestle with some morally ambiguous issues, particularly the question of whether violence is ever morally justified, or necessary. But Spielberg tiptoes up to the complexity of those issues only to pull back from the edge. And his conclusion — “Violence begets violence” — isn’t particularly enlightening or deep.

    “Don’t Mess With the Zohan” is the braver movie, for the way Sandler uses throwaway humor in the service of a strong point of view.

    That gave me more laughs than an Adam Sandler movie ever would….

    Oh, and BJ, ‘Ol Cranky gets it right more often than naught. As far as who cares what he thinks? Seems to me that most people I know who read the MX do….

  10. “Good Lord, Marc, I got paid to sit through it and I’m not sure it was worth that.”

    The main reason why I saw it was for co-writer Robert Smigel, who created Triumph the Insult Dog, TV Funhouse and other bizarre things.

  11. “Oh, and BJ, ‘Ol Cranky gets it right more often than naught. As far as who cares what he thinks? Seems to me that most people I know who read the MX do….”

    I think many of you weren’t here for The Xpress’ last major reviewer. She had some weird hormonal attraction to Adam Sandler and spent a decent amount of an article talking about it. She also completely got her facts wrong with SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, causing a big stir. Ken is always 100% accurate. Sure, I don’t agree with EVERYTHING he reviews (ahem, musicals), but we’re lucky to have him.

  12. tatuaje

    Did I really type ‘Milan’? Jeez…. Obviously that should have read ‘Munich’.

    For the umpteenth million post, can we please have an edit function around these here parts?

    And you’re right Orbit, I wasn’t around for the last reviewer. Hell, to tell you the truth, I never even read reviews before moving here and stumbling upon Hanke. Now it’s, Ok maybe not the first place I turn when I pick up the MX (Asheville Disclaimer!), but one of my favorite sections of the paper.

  13. dave

    awww. poor sandler. i think his movies are funny, in a dumb, mindless way. Nothing wrong with that. Predictable, sure. But so is Hanke’s response to them. And I still read those, too, knowing the end result. thanks, Ken Hanke and adam Sandler!

  14. Ken Hanke

    Ken is always 100% accurate

    That may be something of an overstatement, but I do try to keep the facts straight — even if, as was once said, I apparently do not know “what emo is and what emo is not.”

    And thanks to you both for the votes of confidence.

  15. Gordon

    Are you serious?
    I think you may have forgotten that this was a comedy, and not all things are meant to be viewed in such a serious manner.
    There were a few silly and stupid variants, but do comedies not contain this?

    Also, Ken, you’re getting paid to watch movies and you’re complaining? Maybe quit then? Might just do us all a favour?

  16. Justin Souther

    “Also, Ken, you’re getting paid to watch movies and you’re complaining?”

    Well, if the movie’s bad, he really is getting paid to complain.

  17. Ken Hanke

    I think you may have forgotten that this was a comedy, and not all things are meant to be viewed in such a serious manner. There were a few silly and stupid variants, but do comedies not contain this?

    Okay, even if it’s a comedy and nothing more, it doesn’t get a free pass. “Oh, it’s just a comedy, so it doesn’t matter if it’s juvenile, stupid, badly paced and poorly made” is not a theory I’m interested in subscribing to. Then again, I’m not even entirely clear on what it is you’re asking that “all comedies contain,” so maybe I’m missing the point of your argument, though it does seem that you’re suggesting that comedies need not be good just because they’re comedies.

    Also, Ken, you’re getting paid to watch movies and you’re complaining? Maybe quit then? Might just do us all a favour?

    So I’m supposed to rave about everything that comes out? I mean there are such people — there’s an industry terms for them, quote whores — but what’s the point of reviews from them? You might as well let the studio just tell you how wonderful everything they put out is.

  18. Gordon

    Well when I wen’t and saw it with a few friends, we all loved it.

    I’m not saying that it was the most brilliant thought of comedy of all time, but I am saying that it is funny.

    But you say “though it does seem that you’re suggesting that comedies need not be good just because they’re comedies.”, I have not heard one person tell that the movie was bad, let alone what you have said above.

    “The new Adam Sandler picture, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, isn’t all that different from any number of old Adam Sandler pictures. That’s to say that it’s not very good” you mean to say that you think all Adam Sandler movies are not good?

  19. Ken Hanke

    I have not heard one person tell that the movie was bad, let alone what you have said above.

    Interesting, since I have heard from people who think I was far too kind to the film.

    you mean to say that you think all Adam Sandler movies are not good?

    Exempting Punch-Drunk Love and certain aspects (mostly involving Jack Nicholson) of Anger Management, that’s exactly what I’d say of the Sandler films I’ve seen. Those would be Happy Gilmore, Mr. Deeds, Eight Crazy Nights, Click and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Those I would call actually bad.

    I’d call Reign Over Me mediocre and 50 First Dates marginally better than most. But apart from Punch-Drunk Love, yes, it’s fair to say that I think Adam Sandler movies are not good and that Sandler himself is not very funny. Does that mean that I don’t recognize the fact that he has a large following? Not at all. But I’m not among them.

  20. [b]For the umpteenth million post, can we please have an edit function around these here parts?[/b]

    I just talked to our webmaster, and he said we might be able to arrange something like this for registered users.

  21. tatuaje

    I just talked to our webmaster, and he said we might be able to arrange something like this for registered users.

    YES!!!!

    Thanks Steve…..

  22. [b]tatuaje:[/b] Thank me if/when this actually happens. We’ve got a lot of web development in the works right now, so it may be a while before we can get to this.

    By the way, you can edit your own posts to your heart’s content in the forums.

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