Director: Dennis Dugan (USA – 2008)
Israel, present day. Israeli commando, Zohan, tells his parents he is tired of combat and longs to become a successful hairdresser. At a beach party he fights with Palestinian terrorist, the Phantom. Zohan fakes his own death and escapes to New York in a cargo hold with two dogs, Scrappy and Coco. Posing as an Australian under the pseudonym, ‘Scrappy Coco,’ Zohan seeks employment at a Paul Mitchell hair salon, but is laughed out of the building. After defending lonesome teen Michael in a traffic accident, Zohan is invited to lodge at his mother’s Brooklyn apartment. That night, Zohan goes to a disco where he is recognized by his old friend, Oori, an Israeli immigrant, who promises to keep his identity a secret. Oori tells Zohan about a vacancy at a hair salon on the Arab side of the street. The salon’s owner, hard up Palestinian, Dalia, has her reservations but Zohan soon brings in the money by offering sexual favours to the middle-aged, female clientele. Zohan and Dalia start dating. Palestinian cabdriver, Salim, harbours a grudge against Zohan and tells the Phantom he is still alive. A shady team of property developers threaten to close the salon. That night, the neighbourhood stores are looted by a gang of white supremacists. A scuffle breaks out between the Israeli and Palestinian shop owners who hold each other responsible. Zohan reveals his identity. The Phantom arrives in New York. Zohan tells him he is through with fighting. It transpires that the Phantom is Dalia’s brother. Both sides unite and defeat the terrorists. Zohan and Dalia start up their own salon.
Directed by Denis Dugan (I Now Pronounce You Chuck &Larry) from a script by Judd Apatow (Knocked Up), Robert Smigel (Saturday Night Live) and Adam Sandler who also stars, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan is the Israeli-Palestine conflict played for laughs. The film centres on Israeli counter terrorist and national hero, Zohan (Sandler), who tires of warfare, fakes his own death at the hands of wanted terrorist, the Phantom (John Turturro) and flies to New York to pursue his dream of styling hair. Adopting the name Scrappy Coco- from the dogs he stowed away with- Zohan finds employment in a Palestinian salon owned by love-interest Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriquí). However, his skills with scissors are secondary to his libidinous talent for pleasuring the elderly-matron clientele. When Zohan is recognized by old enemy, cabdriver Salim (Rob Schneider), his former life comes back to haunt him.
You Don’t Mess with the Zohan is by turns, idiotic and clichéd. Relying on limp running gags – sex with old people, a Hezbollah terrorist hot-line, the myriad uses of hummus – the film works overtime to extract laughs. That said, there are seemingly no gags too tactless for Sandler, as in most scenes the audience is subjected to shots of his bulging prosthetic crotch as he dry-humps his orgasmic clientele. Heaving with lazy racial stereotypes, misogyny, homophobic jibes and animal abuse, the film never rises above its outlandishly infantile status. The obligatory romance between Zohan and Dalia is barely developed and there’s a tepid sub-plot involving land developers who attempt to close the salon. Filled with pointless cameos – Henry Winkler, Chris Rock, Mariah Carey and John McEnroe – the film collapses well in advance of the finish line. Its most conspicuous failure however, is saved for the final reel, where a patriotic sermon on Israeli-Palestinian peace relations follows a hundred minutes of these very subjects being ridiculed.
Sight & Sound – Vol 18 Issue 9 – September 2008 – Page 81