The one and only thing the new Adam Sandler vehicle “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” has going for it is that it is so profoundly ridiculous, so utterly devoid of substance, that it’s hard to level any serious criticism at the film.
Supernaturally gifted Israeli secret agent Zohan (Sandler) has tired of killing and capturing terrorists in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. Out of desperation, he fakes his own death and goes to America to fulfill his secret dream of becoming a hair stylist. Zohan changes his name to Scrappy Coco, gets a job at a salon on the “Palestinian” side of the street and eventually becomes a successful stylist who also happens to “get sticky” with his mature female clients – including Charlotte Rae, better known as Edna Garrett from “The Facts of Life” and “Different Strokes.” That’s just one of a dozen brain-creasing images that will stay with you long after the credits.
“You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” turns out to be a can’t-we-all-just-get-along movie which attempts to highlight the similar experiences of Israelis and Palestinians living in America, as well as the need for an end to the centuries old conflict, while at the same time reducing entire groups of people to embarrassing stereotypes. For instance, Zohan substitutes hummus for toothpaste. While some comedies build elements of characters on stereotypes, every character in “Zohan” is entirely constructed on stereotypes. You can’t depict people utilizing goofy stereotypes one minute, and then turn around and try to make a statement about a very real and important issue the next. It comes off as clumsy at best and blatantly offensive at worst.
“Zohan” co-stars Lainie Kazan (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding’), John Turturro (“Transformers”) and Sandler’s old SNL pal Rob Schneider. I have to give Sandler credit for sticking by his friends and kicking them down work whenever possible. Without Sandler’s help, Schneider’s post SNL career would almost certainly be a great deal thinner.
“Zohan” is the handywork of what can truly be described as a dream team of comedy writers: Sandler, “Triumph the Comic Insult Dog” creator and legendary “SNL” writer Robert Smigel, and current Hollywood goldenboy writer/director/producer Judd Apatow. “Zohan” is a bad sketch idea that should have stayed buried in a notebook. Instead, it is now a film that could only be made possible with these names attached. If Sandler had made this film in the early days, you could excuse it as growing pains, but in no way does an actor of lesser power and influence than Sandler get to make a film like “Zohan.” My question is, if you’re going to push through a vanity project, don’t you want to make it count? This is hardly the artistic or comedic achievement anyone would hope for from this triumvirate of comedic genius, nor is it a good use of star power or clout.
In the end, the only redeeming quality is that “Zohan” is so preposterous, so totally absurd, that it becomes relatively innocuous. There are a handful of ways to offend with film, and “Zohan” has the potential to cover almost all the bases depending on the individuals in the audience. The thing I find most offensive, is that instead of a comedy classic for the ages from three of modern comedy’s most undeniable talents, all we get is a half-baked, totally disposable pile of silliness that makes “Zoolander” look like “Citizen Kane.”