- Rated PG-13
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All photos © Sony Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
fter films like “Happy Gilmore” and “The Waterboy” transformed Adam Sandler into a comedy superstar, the “SNL” alum has churned out a pretty hit-and-miss career. For every good movie that Sandler has made he’s followed up with a bad one, and though his latest string of films have been remarkably mediocre, “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” is a step back in the right direction. The decision to team up with longtime pals Judd Apatow and Robert Smigel certainly paid off, because while the film isn’t as great as his earlier work, it’s far better than you could possibly imagine.
Sandler stars as Zohan, an Israeli super commando who is so good at what he does that his government sends him on missions alone to minimize collateral damage. What many don’t know, however, is that Zohan is desperate to escape the never-ending war and pursue his dream of becoming a hairstylist. So, during his latest battle with archnemesis The Phantom (John Turturro), Zohan fakes his death and heads to America, where he plans to start a new life in New York City. Emerging with an outdated hairstyle and new name (Scrappy Coco), Zohan lands a gig at a Palestinian hair salon run by the gorgeous Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui). Before she knows it, her struggling business is booming thanks to Zohan’s insistence that he pleasure every woman he grooms, but when a humiliated cab driver (Rob Schneider) from Zohan’s past seeks revenge, his new identity is compromised.
Adam Sandler has long made a living out of acting juvenile, but “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” represents a completely new tier of comedy for him. This might be the first time he hasn’t played a glorified version of himself in a role, and he’s wholly committed to the transformation. The accent is a little shaky at times (it jumps between French and Middle Eastern), but the look is perfect – both as the Justin Guarini-haired Zohan and the flamboyant, but totally straight, Scrappy Coco.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Sandler go above and beyond to bring a character to life, but Zohan could be his most successful yet. Of course, there are a handful of recurring jokes that come with playing an oversexed Israeli (including jabs about genital hair and hummus), and most of them fall flat. The same goes for many of the cameos (including Sandler regulars like Kevin Nealon and Nick Swardson), with the exception of Dave Matthews, who hams it up as a white supremacist villain-for-hire with a hatred for everything except Mel Gibson movies.
Fortunately, the film is so outrageous that when it succeeds, it’s gut-bustlingly funny. Sight gags involving hacky sack with a cat and a particularly inventive “Rocky” spoof (both clearly products of Smigel’s demented mind) are some of the film’s most humorous moments, while an opening scene showing Zohan in action is so good that you’ll wish the entire movie was centered on his super-soldier persona. The closest thing to compare it to is an “Austin Powers” film, and while the Zohan character certainly doesn’t deserve his own franchise, fans of that brand of humor will find plenty to admire throughout the film's surprisingly well-paced 113-minutes.
The political undertones are unnecessary, but completely expected, and though Sandler probably could have pushed the envelope even farther, it’s nice to see that he’s restrained himself in that particular department. Still, while “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” is one of Sandler’s best films in a long time, it’s a far cry from his post-"SNL" golden years. The laughs don’t come quite as fast and furious as they used to, but when they do, it might just be the hardest you laugh all year.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
While many studios have been really lazy about special features these days, Sony’s Blu-ray release of “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” is a welcome exception. This thing is packed with extras, including two audio commentaries (one with director Dennis Dugan, and another more entertaining track with star Adam Sandler, co-writer Robert Smigel, and co-stars Nick Swardson and Rob Schneider) and 14 minutes of deleted scenes. Also included is an unrated cut of the film and ten different featurettes about everything from cameos ("Look Who Stopped By?") and “The Stunts of Zohan” to behind-the-scenes footage (“Shooting Baja for Tel Aviv”) and interviews with John Turturro and Dave Matthews. There’s even an entertaining video journal of Dugan’s attempts at communicating with his Mexican extras, and Blu-ray owners get an exclusive "Translating the Zohan" graphical pop-up track.