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Dustin Putman

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You Don't Mess with the Zohan  (2008)
1 Star
Directed by Dennis Dugan.
Cast: Adam Sandler, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Rob Schneider, John Turturro, Alec Mapa, Nick Swardson, Lainie Kazan, Ido Mosseri, Charlotte Rae, Henry Winkler, Mariah Carey, Chris Rock, Kevin James, John McEnroe, George Takei, Bruce Vilanch.
2008 – 113 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for crude and sexual content throughout, language and nudity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, May 27, 2008.
Adam Sandler and director Dennis Dugan are a pair that don't match. The last time they worked together was only twelve months ago, in a dreadfully sanctimonious and stereotypical misfire by the name of "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry." Now here they are again, teaming with co-writers Robert Smigel and, unbelievably, Judd Apatow (2007's "Knocked Up"), on a project that is even worse than their last. "You Don't Mess with the Zohan" starts with an okay general conceit—a ladies' man who dreams of being a hairdresser—and then builds upon it a series of tedious subplots and even more tedious gags that go nowhere. Running an endless 113 minutes when 85 would have sufficed, the film is dead on arrival, a desperate, miserable experience that takes a good hour before it earns its first laugh.

Zohan Divir (Adam Sandler) is a top-notch Israeli agent who can be found bedding a parade of women whenever he isn't taking out terrorists. His heart isn't in the latter, though, so he fakes his own death and heads for New York City to live out his dream of becoming a hairdresser. When Paul Mitchell turns him down, Zohan convinces beautiful salon owner Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui) to give him a job. What begins as a trial run as a lowly hair-sweeper quickly turns into a full-blown position as a stylist, with Zohan—and the use of his absurdly large crotch—becoming an area sensation. Putting a kink in his jovial new life are two potentially dangerous men from his past who have learned of his whereabouts, Arab archenemy Phantom (John Turturro) and goat-seeking cab driver Salim (Rob Schneider).

"You Don't Mess with the Zohan" is hilarious for a roughly ten-minute segment at around the one-hour mark, as Zohan finally starts erotically cutting and styling hair for predominately elderly customers and then dutifully taking each of them in the back room for a none-too-subtle quickie. It's over-the-top, yes, but so sardonic, perverse and ballsy for a PG-13 movie that one can't help but be tickled. What surrounds this comic highlight is beyond the realms of badness. The first act is a cartoonish take on terrorism that isn't just poorly conceived, but woefully inappropriate; as the would-be comedy flew by, you could hear a pin drop at the packed-to-the-gills screening I attended. What follows is about what one would expect from Adam Sandler's lesser oeuvre, including multiple scenes of animal abuse and cruelty; rampant and repetitive homophobic jokes that would have seemed outdated thirty years ago (the term, "fagola," is used at least ten times); an obligatory, underwritten romance between Zohan and Dalia, and a dull-as-a-butter-knife subplot involving smarmy land developers who want to tear down Dalia's salon and build a mall.

Adam Sandler (2006's "Click") is a likable actor and comedian who, without the guidance of a real filmmaker like Paul Thomas Anderson or a co-star of the caliber of Drew Barrymore, can't pick a screenplay to save his life. Since he is dubiously credited as a co-screenwriter this time, maybe he should have fired himself. Sandler's physique has never looked better or been on such prominent display as it is here, and his Zohan, complete with happily unapologetic sexual prowess and magical pubic hair, shows glimmers of promise that the material fails to develop and build upon. As love interest Dalia, Emmanuelle Chriqui (2003's "Wrong Turn") is asked to do nothing but react to Sandler's shtick. John Turturro (2007's "Margot at the Wedding") and Rob Schneider (2006's "The Benchwarmers") are annoying and forgettable as antagonists Phantom and Salim. The only supporting performance that does stand out is by Alec Mapa (2004's "Connie and Carla"), charmingly making the most of his screen time as a fellow male hairdresser at the salon. Of course, since he's the most interesting character on display, he disappears from the proceedings for long stretches and is ultimately wasted.

"You Don't Mess with the Zohan" goes on and on, running in circles as director Dennis Dugan searches for a point to it all. The pacing is languid. The script is muddled and directionless. The funny stuff isn't funny. The character of Zohan plays like an "SNL" skit reject. And it's all wrapped up at the end with an outrageously misguided bow—an endless sermon on international relations and the importance of accepting all people no matter their race or creed that follows 100 minutes of these very subjects being made a mockery of. "You Don't Mess with the Zohan" would be a bad movie without this conclusion (which, by the way, is capped off with yet another "fagola" reference). With it, it's offensive in its underlying ugliness and unforgivable hypocrisy.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman