- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2008

Adam Sandler’s “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan” promises to be something different from his usual lowbrow romp. It’s got a zinger of a hook - an Israeli superagent trading in his guns for a pair of styling scissors. Also, comedy king Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”) co-wrote the script.

Promises, promises.

The sight of Mr. Sandler, bulked up and sporting a coif at least 20 years out of date, makes for a winning gag. Zohan’s physical prowess also yields some giddy set pieces, including a hilarious foot assault on a surly New Yorker.

“He’s like Rembrandt with a grenade,” one starry-eyed observer cries.

In an ambitious subplot, Zohan’s battles against Palestinian terrorists spark a running commentary on the perpetual Middle East conflict, a subject rarely touched in mainstream movies, let alone slapstick comedies.

However, all of this occurs in the film’s first 20 minutes, leaving plenty of time for the actual plot - or what passes for plot - in Mr. Sandler’s alternative film universe.

The unstoppable Zohan fakes his own death and comes to America to start a career making people’s hair “silky smooth,” a catchphrase that isn’t funny the first time, let alone the 20th.

He quickly finds work in an ethnically diverse part of the Big Apple, where tensions between Israeli and Arab shopkeepers are always at a low boil.

Zohan persuades a salon owner (“Entourage’s” Emmanuelle Chriqui) to give him a tryout, and the Israeli does more than cut hair to her satisfaction. He seduces a series of older female clients, taking them into the salon’s backroom to, ahem, complete his services.

Meanwhile, an old enemy of Zohan’s, a Palestinian cabbie played by Rob Schneider, spots him in the salon and declares a personal holy war against him.

Mr. Apatow may have helped write “Zohan,” but it’s hard to spot a trace of his sensibility here. The slapstick humor is belligerent, the set-ups relentlessly crude, and any hopes that Zohan might develop into a three-dimensional character are dashed quickly. It’s all about the next gross-out moment, nothing more.

Mr. Sandler’s pals make their expected appearances, mostly with embarrassing results. Henry Winkler’s cameo is humiliating. Actually driving a cab would have been a better career move for Mr. Schneider than his role here. Poor John Turturro looks shell-shocked playing a Palestinian fighter out to stop Zohan at all costs.

The meaningless cameos never end. Kevin James and John McEnroe pop up for no good reason, and then Mariah Carey appears to plug her album and look dazed by her pointless subplot.

The romance between Zohan and his stylist boss is so underplayed it’s as if the cast and crew remembered that every Sandler film requires a gorgeous heroine and threw one in during post-production.

“You Don’t Mess With the Zohan” begins with great promise but ends up just as crude and rude as every other Sandler comedy.

**

TITLE: “You Don”t Mess With the Zohan”

RATING: PG:13 (Cartoon-style violence, sexual situations and some adult language)

CREDITS: Directed by Dennis Dugan. Written by Adam Sandler, Robert Smigel and Judd Apatow.

RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes

WEB SITE: www.youdontmesswiththezohan.com

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