You Don’t Mess with the Zohan
Stirring the Pot With the Comedy Stick

Judging from the audience’s reaction, a niche market still exists for scripts that aspire to raise bathroom and sexual humor to the status of classical literature and for films that elicit guffaws and giggles from adult men (and women) with even the most ridiculous and even unbelievable sight gags and characterizations. The genre ran rampant during the ’90s, but despite the critics’ prediction that it would be short-lived, “it ain’t dead yet!” Am I the only one wondering why skilled writers and actors like Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, Robert Smigel, Judd Apatow, and Jack Black can make a “good” living creating movies with characters whose mental ages would require an adult chaperone to buy the theater tickets? Maybe not… perhaps these films serve a purpose as mental vacations from the world of adult responsibility.

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan follows the transformation of Zohan, an Israeli Mosad agent who dreams of leaving his life as a counter-terrorism agent for the mundane, normal life of being a hairdresser. After faking his own death, Zohan flees to New York and buries himself in a middle-eastern neighborhood where the Israelis live on one side of the street and the Palestinians live on the other (Yuk, yuk!).

Adam Sandler as the titular character in You Don't Mess With The Zohan

After discovering that Paul Mitchell is not going to employ an unknown haircutter, it looks as if Zohan will have to take the job that every other middle-eastern immigrant man has available—working in an electronics store (Guffaw!). To prevent himself from sinking into this discouraging fate, Zohan crosses the street and works free in a Palestinian salon until he proves his skills in hairstyling and drawing customers. The methods by which he proves his skills provide the basis (or, perhaps, baseness) of the sick—and yes, sometimes genuinely funny—humor. But Zohan’s life becomes more complicated when he is recognized by the terrorist who thought he had killed Zohan comes to seek him out and finish the job.

There are several aspect of You Don’t Mess with the Zohan that I actually really like. The cast is amazing: John Turturro skillfully portrays the madcap and maniacal Phantom who is out to kill Zohan. Rob Schneider plays a great comic foil, Salim, and Kevin Nealon provides perhaps the most sympathetic role as “Kevin,” whose perpetual embarrassment over his mother’s sexuality and promiscuity with Zohan. I also have to admit that I really like Adam Sandler with a beard and shaggy haircut, in addition to a beefy (but not completely buff) physique.

Another interesting and pleasant surprise is the casting of the women who parade through the hair salon and are caught in the irresistible web of the Zohan’s attraction. Instead of a female spider who mates and kills, the spider is male and “slays” all the females with the intimacy they have missed as widows. Director Dennis Dugan ingeniously employs many of the grande dames of ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s television—Charlotte Rae, Lainie Kazan, Helen Siff, and Cynthia Frost to name a few. Oh, and Dugan gets himself in the film as the “homeless guy.”

As a whole, for a silly movie, Sandler is not quite as dopey as he has been in movies such as Happy Gilmore and The Waterboy. However, he is not the sweet character that I enjoyed in 50 First Dates. The unfortunate detractors are Sandler’s insistence on hardly taking a step without a pelvic thrust, and walking around with at least five pairs of socks in his shorts. It’s just too much to watch for over an hour… well, even thirty minutes!

The underlying story of You Don’t Mess with the Zohan is the ridiculous way Americans have become so post-9/11-terrorist-phobic that every person of middle-eastern extraction is painted with the same broad brush. At one point in the movie, someone asks, “Why don’t they like you?” to which the response is, “Because they think we are you!” I have read reviews by people who are up-in-arms over the perceived anti-Semitism and perceived anti-Arabic content of the film; yet the whole point of the movie is how fundamentally stupid discrimination has gotten, and how the image of America as a melting pot is replaced by the American pot calling all the kettles black. While most certainly comedic, the film is far from vapid; Zohan provides plenty of thought and conversation fodder, the value of which leads me to believe that Sandler’s film successfully (if comically) made its point.

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan is rated PG-13 “for crude and sexual content throughout, language and nudity.” As I’ve said before, I don’t think that children already trying to deal with raging hormones really need to see this movie. The rating applies to the crude and sexual content throughout, with the language and nudity merely tagalongs. As a parent, I wouldn’t want to have to explain what is going on and/or what some of the crude language means. The majority of the audience with which I viewed Zohan was over 18, and I suppose that if people that age and older really want to be twelve again, there’s nothing stopping them.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Kathy attended a promotional screening of You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.