You Don't Mess With the Zohan

Given the missed opportunities for sharpening silliness with satire, it's impossible not to mess with the Zohan. There's a risky idea in the script hooked up by star Adam Sandler and his co-writers, Robert Smigel and Judd Apatow: What if Sandler played a Mossad commando named Zohan who fakes his death and comes to New York to live his dream of making the world "silky smooth" by cutting and styling hair? And what if the only job he could get was working in a Brooklyn salon run by a Palestinian babe (Emmanuelle Chriqui)?

It's the Middle East crisis played for laughs, and it gets a few until the movie backs off its bolder notions. That's a shame, because Sandler, buff, slow-dried and Borat-accented, is clearly having a ball playing a Jewish superhero. Ditto John Turturro as Zohan's Arab counterpart, the Phantom. "You think you can oppress my people, land-grabber?" shrieks the Phantom, and suddenly the movie is a microcosm of Arab-Israeli relations taken out of context and wrapped in comic absurdity. What the Marx brothers could have made of that!

What Zohan makes of it is a sentimental hash that director Dennis Duganries to deflect with crude sight gags. Sandler (no hair homo, he) stuffs his crotch and starts shtupping the old ladies whose hair he shags. The jokes right out The Producers, screen and stage, and doesn't profit from punishing repetition. By the end of the film, the cliché of everybody getting along is reduced to both sides working together in the ultimate monument to capitalism: a mall. Some message.

From The Archives Issue 366: April 1, 1982
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