You Don't Mess With The Zohan

Director    Dennis Dugan
Starring    Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider, John Turturro, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Nick Swardson
Release    6 JUN (US) 15 AUG (UK)    Certificate 12A
3 stars


30th August 2008

The Israeli Palestinian conflict isn't the most popular of topics for laughs. It's actually very serious stuff (Steven Spielberg made that pretty damn clear in Munich and that's about the size of our understanding of it). But when you combine Adam Sandler with a dodgy Israeli accent, an '80s wardrobe and a desire to cut and style hair, you have yourself a wacky lowbrow comedy that pokes fun at the conflict in the nicest possible way.

Sandler plays legendary Israeli Mossad agent, Zohan, a nudity-loving, well-blessed counter-terrorist who can catch bullets, dismantle a gun within seconds and play hacky-sack with his buttocks. However, Zohan has a hidden sensitive side. So he fakes his own death, packs up his bags, gives himself a snazzy '80s do, changes his name to Scrappy Coco and heads to The Big Apple where he can live out his dream of becoming a hair-stylist. He finds a job sweeping the floor of a Palestinian salon where he gets the chance to fulfil his dream and give a 'thorough' service to his grateful, older clients. Everything is going well until he's recognised by Rob Schneider's militant Palestinian cab driver, and the life Zohan left behind back in the home country comes back to haunt him.

After the tedium of Reign Over Me and the godawful Chuck and Larry, we finally have an Adam Sandler character reminiscent of his best work from back in the '90s e.g. the Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison and Bobby Boucher era. Sandler's really gone to town with Zohan, striking the right balance between silliness (the hair, the accent, the t-shirt) and likeability.

Kicking off in Israel as Zohan hunts for his foe, The Phantom (a wonderfully OTT John Turturro - think a young Colonel Gaddafi), the plot quickly goes south when he makes his move to NYC. But some surprisingly clever pot shots at the Middle-East quickly win you over. It's a touchy subject that's illustrated nicely when a Palestinian complains, "People hate us, they think we are terrorists," only for an Israeli to come back with, "People hate us, too. They think we're you." Luckily there are plenty of cheap gags for the less politically-inclined among you, like Zohan's family's inexplicable love of hummus.

Elsewhere, it's business as usual. Sandler's posse of hangers-on make their compulsory appearances - Henry 'Fonz' Winkler seems like he's making a tidy profit from Sandler's career, while lucky charm Schneider gets a bigger role than usual, which will delight some but likely infuriate others. It's still the Sandler show, and Zohan himself is front and centre throughout - as far as character comedy goes it's hardly cutting-edge, but at least it's memorable (we're talking to you, Love Guru).

It's hard to see where Zohan will make its money - gags about the Israel/Palestine conflict will likely go over the head of your average American, while we can't exactly see it going down too well in the Odeons on the Gaza Strip. But if Sandler has proved anything in the past, it's that his in-built audience will follow him anywhere - we guess that includes the Middle-East as well. Rob

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