You Don’t Mess with the Zohan puts its own twist on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an IDF counter-terrorist becomes a hairdresser.
Zohan Dvir (Adam Sandler) is one of the best counter-terrorists serving in the Israeli Defense Forces. However, the fighting is starting to become too much. Zohan’s dream is to be a Paul Mitchell’s hairstylist. He confides in his parents (Shelley Berman and Dina Dorrone) that he wants to cut hair but they laugh him off. After all, he’s superhuman!
First things first, Zohan fakes his death while fighting against Palestinian terrorist Fatoush “Phantom” Hakbarah (John Turturro). After arriving in the US and adopting the name Scrappy Coco, Zohan’s dreams quickly die when the Paul Mitchell’s stylists laugh at him. After befriending Michael Klayman (Nick Swardson), he’s invited to stay with Michael and his mother, Gail (Lainie Kazan). Much to Michael’s displeasure, Zohan’s promiscuity is not coming to an end anytime soon.
But even though Zohan changes his hairstyle, it’s not enough to keep this new life secret. Oori Shulimson (Ido Mosseri) spots him immediately and keeps his secret. Not just that but Oori introduces him to other Middle Eastern store owners in Lower Manhattan. Zohan spots Dalia Hakbarah’s (Emmanuelle Chriqui) hair salon and tries getting a job cutting hair. However, she only lets him sweep the floors until Nadira quits. Nadira’s departure turns out to be a blessing in disguise because Zohan’s hairstyling activities start bringing in more business. It’s great for them but business developer Grant Walbridge (Michael Buffer) is not happy in the least.
Oori isn’t the only one who recognizes Zohan. A taxi driver, Salim Yousfobdal (Rob Schneider, who is terribly miscast), spots him while dropping off two passengers. Salim is still unhappy about Zohan taking his goat and wants revenge. Even with his friends helping him, he’s unable to get the job done. As such, they bring in Phantom to find Zohan.
Walbridge sponsors a Hacky Sack game between Israel and Lebanon but it is really just a cover for his true plan: hiring white nationalists to burn down the stores. In fact, Zohan is confronting Phantom when the call comes through and he leaves immediately. When the Middle Eastern immigrants arrive, they blame the others. Meanwhile, Phantom tries confronting Zohan again, who chooses not to fight. Instead, they both team up in taking out the white nationalists. Unfortunately, the stores get destroyed but that’s more or less an accident. In the end, a new mall opens up but it’s one that the community owns rather than Walbridge.
A number of Sandler castmates through the years have cameos in the film. Chris Rock, Henry Winkler, Kevin Nealon, and Kevin James are among them. John McEnroe, George Takei, and Bruce Vilanch also have cameos. McEnroe’s cameo is a fun one.
The real enemy in the film is not Phantom or the terribly miscast Salim Yousfobdal but Grant Walbridge. It’s for the best, really. Even though they put off the film for a few years after 9/11, I like that there’s this effort to find peace between Israeli-Americans and Palestinian-Americans. Of course, the casting could be better when it comes to authenticity. Most are Israeli or Arab. However, Turturro is of Italian descent and Emmanuelle Chriqui is Jewish and both are playing Palestinians. If you make the film now, some casting would obviously have to be different but hey, that’s how things worked when the film was in production. The other thing that would be great for authenticity was if they had filmed in Tel Aviv rather than Baja. That being said, there are no shortage of hummus jokes.
Fifteen years later, there are plenty of laughs in the film. At least, I chuckled more than enough on this anniversary rewatch. It’s a funny script that adds its own twist on the conflict. One can either keep fighting or try making an effort to find peace. Ultimately, it is an attempt at peace that wins out in the end. In watching the bonus featurettes, working on the film gave actors a new perspective. It allowed them to talk to each other and have a conversation. There’s so much that people have in common and can find ways to co-exist despite the never-ending conflict. The film clearly didn’t solve things seeing as where we are right now but never say never.
You Don’t Mess With the Zohan is hysterical and gives Adam Sandler one of his finest comedic roles in a comedy that puts its own spin on the conflict and need for peace.
DIRECTOR: Dennis Dugan
SCREENWRITERS: Adam Sandler & Robert Smigel & Judd Apatow
CAST: Adam Sandler, John Turturro, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Nick Swardson, Lainie Kazan, and Rob Schneider
Sony released You Don’t Mess with the Zohan in theaters on June 6, 2008. Grade: 4/5
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