Movie Review: You Don't Mess With the Zohan

By Matthew Huntley

June 12, 2008

It's good to see the return of Brady Bunch men's wear.

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Unable to find a stylist job at more reputable salons, Zohan enters the Palestinian-Israeli district, where his friend Oori (Ido Mosseri) runs a "Going Out of Business" electronic store. He points Zohan to a Palestinian salon across the street, run by the ravishing Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui). To prove he's worthy of cutting hair, Zohan performs no-handed pushups and treats a chair like a pummel horse. Dalia makes him hair sweeper and Zohan doesn't let one piece drop on the floor. One of the movie's biggest laughs comes when Zohan gets his first string of customers, all of them old ladies, whom he sensualizes with the shampoo and a showerhead...and then later with other things in other places.

The underlying plot, which is actually serviceable for a dumb comedy like this, revolves around a business tycoon (Michael Buffer, the "Let's get ready to rumble" guy) wanting to tear down the Israeli-Palestinian community to put up a new mall. There's also the matter of Salim (Rob Schneider), a taxi driver who wants revenge against the Zohan for stealing his precious goat back in Israel. During a semi-amusing scene, Salim calls the Hezbollah hotline, where the answering service says things like (in English mind you), "For terrorist supplies, press 5."

You Don't Mess with the Zohan mostly works because we enjoy the titular hero's company. He's sweet, noble and open-minded and we take pleasure in watching him adapt to American culture. Sandler, who co-wrote the screenplay with Robert Smigel and Judd Apatow, owes a lot to Mike Myers and the original Austin Powers, another comedy about a government agent adjusting to a different place. But I still enjoyed watching Zohan tackle a wig of dreads, play Hacky Sack with a cat, and put hummus on just about anything.


The ending is perfunctory and breaks down to a standard conclusion in which all the Israelis and Arabs come together to break bread. But you know what? A movie can pretend, even dream. At least it maintains its goofiness and doesn't resort to the kind of soppy moralizing we're used to at the end of most Sandler comedies.

Zohan is too long to sustain its initial energy (it runs nearly two hours), and it does wear thin by the time a group of rednecks (led by Dave Matthews) try to tear down the Middle Eastern city block. But I was surprised by how charming it was most of the time. Yes, there are stereotypes in the movie, but they're deliberate and hardly serious. There's a funny line when an Israeli says to an Arab, "People hate me because they think I'm you," pointing out Americans' ugly tendency to group Middle Easterners into one lump category.

I won't argue that Zohan has a powerful agenda other than to entertain, but it makes us laugh. Adam Sandler is a nice guy in real life and I give him credit for always trying to make something fun and good-natured, even if it doesn't always come across that way. Zohan is and does.

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