You Don’t Mess with the Zohan
dir Dennis Dugan
scr Adam Sandler, Robert Smigel, Judd Apatow
with Adam Sandler, John Turturro, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Lainie Kazan, Nick Swardson, Ido Mosseri, Rob Schneider, Dave Matthews, Mariah Carey, John McEnroe, Kevin Nealon, Henry Winkler
release US 6.Jun.08, UK 15.Aug.08
08/US Columbia 1h53
You Don't Mess with the Zohan
Nice hair: Sandler

turturro chriqui schneider
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You Don't Mess with the Zohan For an Adam Sandler comedy this film seems deeply unsure of itself. Yes, there's the goofy, farcical comedy, but it's underscored and ultimately sidelined by the action. The main problem is that it's simply not funny enough.

Zohan (Sandler) is a star Israeli agent with almost super-human skills and a rock-star entourage. But he's fed up with the violence and wants to become a hairdresser in New York. So he fakes his own death in a battle with his nemesis the Phantom (Turturro) and reinvents himself as Scrappy Coco, working in a neighbourhood salon owned by a Palestinian woman (Chriqui). When an Arab cabbie (Schneider) recognises him and notifies the Phantom, Zohan's past catches up to him with a vengeance. On the other hand, maybe he's learned something from America's cultural melting pot.

As usual, Sandler keeps the character details consistent, right down to the smallest gesture. This doesn't make Zohan any more believable, but it at least establishes a kind of comic-sketch sensibility we can go with. We never for a moment understand why anyone could take this ridiculous man seriously, but never mind. And his interaction with the other characters works, mainly because he holds so firmly to the character while almost everyone else plays it straight.

Yes, the whiff of a vanity project lingers throughout this overlong film, from the womanising Tel Aviv beach party to the way Zohan pleases his Manhattan clients in unorthodox ways. Sandler is happy to play up these masculine myths, and even dip into action hero mode as Zohan demonstrates his fighting skills. What Sandler isn't willing to do is take the comedy to the logical step, which would be even funnier and much more provocative: that Zohan is really gay.

But no, Sandler prefers to fall back on cartoonish stunt action, sleazy innuendo and bodily fluid gags. These things may satisfy his core fan-base, but everyone else will leave the cinema feeling a bit cheated. It's more cute than funny. Although at least it has the nerve to address the seriousness of the Israel-Palestine situation with a bit of hopeful silliness.

cert 12 themes, language, vulgarity, innuendo 28.Jul.08

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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall