If you have ever wondered what it feels like to be punched in the face repeatedly by Mike Tyson in his prime, wonder no more. Adam Sandler, with the help of Robert Smigel and, gulp, Judd Apatow, have in all of their infinite wit and wisdom provided to you, for the measly cost of $14.75 (or whatever you’re local cineplex charges), a nonphysical way to closely capture that feeling. Thank them, with all of your might, for You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.
While watching the movie I couldn’t fathom a reason for this getting bankrolled. It couldn’t just be because of the Apatow/Sandler connection. But just as I was about to throw my arms up in utter despair, I suddenly remembered the 2008 MTV Movie Awards show that aired June 1st (you know you watched it) and the reason became crystal clear. In one word: ego. You Don’t Mess with the Zohan is an exercise for Sandler to show everyone (mostly critics, I suspect) that he can make an extremely crude, gyrating hipped, wanna-be hairstylist Mossad agent with a terrible accent funny. This movie would have been made even if it were written and directed by a grouping of great apes.
That’s right; Mr. Sandler has thrown aside his trademark baby-talk speech and has taken on one from his roots – an Israeli one. He is Zohan Dvir, an Israeli super agent who longs for days of less stress and of making people look “silky smooth” by styling their hair. So he steals away to America by faking his death while fighting The Phantom (John Turturro), a wanted Palestinian terrorist. Upon his arrival, he changes his name to Scrappy Coco, sleeps with hundreds of the living dead (that’s the really fucking old and decrepit) and comes to realize the Israeli-Arab fight isn’t worthwhile after he falls in love with his Palestinian hairdresser boss – who just so happens to be super-hot – Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui).
Premise be damned though, the crux of the movie is all about coming up with ways to let Adam Sandler and the rest of the Happy Madison role players to make complete asses of themselves while spacing in jokes at the expense of Middle Eastern stereotypes. Who knew spreading hummus on everything was funny? Not me. Did you know Hezbollah had a telephone customer support hotline as bad as Sprint Nextel’s? At least now I understand why they can’t bomb the right targets (so let’s hope it stays that bad). Disco and hackysacks, both of which had their heyday in America 20+ years ago, are revisited again and again and again, just so we can be constantly be reminded that that part of the world is still in the dark ages. And don’t get me started on how they peddle worthless electronic equipment and sleep with their farm animals . . .
This isn’t to say that some of this ridiculousness doesn’t pull out a laugh or two or three now and again. It does. Zohan’s awkwardness and tantamount desire to bring every situation to either one of two conclusions – sex or fighting – does have its moments (I’m guessing we can thank Apatow and Smigel for this). John Turturro is so over the top with his portrayal as the flamboyant and flashy capitalistic Zionist hater, you cannot not laugh. This is one of those instances where something is so bad it actually becomes good. Rob Schneider as the sheep fucker turned cab driver Salim, is, well, like every other characterization he’s done in the past few years – just good enough for a chuckle and a coinciding temple rub.
Aside from a few guilty laughs and the overwhelming desire to somehow get in contact with Emmanuelle Chriqui for a night on the town, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan leaves me with one lingering thought: If you have an idea, no matter how poorly written or stupid it is, send it to both Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow. Chances are in your favor that one of them will buy the rights to it and make you a rich man or woman. I’m getting my screenplay ready now . . . are you?