June 12, 2008

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You Donít Mess with the Zohan (PG-13)
Adam Sandler is an Israeli commando with dreams of being a shear genius at Paul Mitchellís salon in You Donít Mess with the Zohan, a strange, messy, fascinating comedy.

Zohan (Sandler), who is simply Zohan or sometimes The Zohan but doesnít appear to have any additional names, is excellent at rooting out terrorists ó he is a maestro at grabbing the one evil-doer while leaving the civilians unharmed. When officials plan to catch ó or rather recatch, Zohan got him already but the government traded him back ó the Palestinian terrorist The Phantom (John Turturro), Zohan wearily tells them no, no, forget about your big plan with all the firepower and the loss of civilian life. Iíll go get The Phantom by myself, he says particularly wearily because this mission cut into a vacation of dancing naked on the beach while cooking fish for friends. See, the Zohan doesnít like all this war all the time; he wants to relax, take it easy, disco and cut hair. He lovingly gazes at the hairstyles of a 1980s-era Paul Mitchell book and dreams of the John-Stamos-circa-Full House cuts that he would give to his customers.

When Zohan finally meets The Phantom, he has developed a plan. After a protracted battle (full of faceless-henchman defeating reminiscent of a Jackie Chan movie if Jackie Chan had a giant bulge in his pants), Zohan is killed by the Phantom ó or so everybody thinks. In reality, heís made an escape via pet carrier to an airplane bound for America and a life in the salon.

Naturally, the New World isnít entirely welcoming, what with Zohanís assumed name of Scrappy Coco (his canine companions for the flight over) and his total lack of haircutting experience. With no shot at Paul Mitchell, Zohan interviews at every barbershop and salon he can find until he gets to the one owned by Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriui), a Palestinian girl trying to make her own way in the big city.

A bit of the homeland troubles follow Zohan to New York when he not only finds himself working on the Palestinian side of a street also home to Israeli businesses but is recognized by Salim (Rob Schneider), a Palestinian immigrant who remembers Zohan from his commando days.

Yep, Rob Schneider. Itís to be expected even before you know what a Sandler movie is about that Schneider will probably show up in it. Some gross-out and sex-related humor is also expected ó here Sandler makes the sticky, as he charmingly calls it, with a lot of the women (of advanced age) whom he makes ďsilky smooth,Ē as he calls his hairstyling abilities. What I didnít expect is the rest of the movie ó the strange satire of Palestinian/Israeli cultures and politics, the ďweíre all brothers in hummusĒ and ďless hate, more hair productsĒ messages, the sudden breaks in slapstick for moments of semi-serious debate. Itís like watching a Three Stooges movie and coming upon a debate over McCarthyism. There are jarring and fascinating turns from low comedy (due to certain scenes in this movie, I think Iím off hummus for a while) to surprisingly social and political observations ó observations of at least the Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle level of intellect (which, go back and watch that movie, are not too shabby).

Baffling are some of the strange stereotypes and odd plots of this movie, baffling to me and to the enormous Friday night audience in the theater where I saw the movie that went long stretches without a big laugh. I donít think the crowd got it. I donít know if I got it. I do know I didnít hate it.

You Donít Mess with the Zohan has a bit of that Judd Apatow (heís a credited writer on the film) sweet heart surrounded by a strange swirl of plot about ethnic tensions, the never-ending fight over the Holy Land (which might for our purposes be a street in New York City threatened by a mall developer), a Sharks/Jets love story and one manís dream to make every woman look like late-series Jo from The Facts of Life (speaking of which, Charlotte Rae of Mrs. Garrett fame has a Ö well, a memorable cameo). If you go to Zohan ó and I guess I fall slightly more on the side of going than not ó donít go expecting your standard Adam Sandler or your late-model Apatow flick. Or, rather, expect whatever you want. No matter what you think going in, youíre sure to leave stunned. C+

Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, language and nudity. Directed by Dennis Dugan and written by Adam Sandler, Robert Smigel and Judd Apatow, You Donít Mess with the Zohan is an hour and 53 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Sony.