In the gallery of travesties starring and/or made by Adam Sandler, I have to admit that "You Don't Mess With the Zohan" is the least atrocious -- that is, if you realize it's all just one insane mess to begin with.
"Zohan" (or, as I like to call it, "Peace -- and Hair Grease -- in the Middle East") has a beefed-up and toned Sandler playing the title character, a hedonistic, dang-near-superhuman Israeli counterterrorist (for those wondering what this week's superhero movie is, here you go!) who has a secret desire -- to cut hair. When he's not pulling out his artillery and gearing up to do battle, he spends his nights clutching on to an outdated Paul Mitchell book of hairstyles, longing to make the world "silky smooth."
He fakes his own death after going one-on-one with Palestinian madman/longtime archenemy "The Phantom" (John Turturro, hamming it up even more than he did in "Transformers" last summer) and flees to New York. Once he's there, he renames himself Scrappy Coco and ends up in a run-down hair salon -- run by a Palestinian ("Entourage" hottie Emmanuelle Chriqui), no less -- where he becomes the seductive toast of the hairstyling world and the progressive-minded deliverer of peace and good will within the city's Israeli and Palestinian communities.
You almost have to give it to Sandler, the proud schlemiel, for at least trying to attack a serious subject, albeit in his own manic, incessantly foolish way. (I won't count the homophobia-obliterating he tried to do last summer with "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry" because I think we're all trying to forget that.) Working from a years-old script he did with "SNL" cartoon man Robert Smigel and the omnipresent Judd Apatow, Sandler walks that fine line between treating Israeli-Palestinian tensions with absurd satire and condescending buffoonery, and it's a line he can't help pushing himself off occasionally. He lays on stereotypes (using hummus as a dipping sauce and an all-purpose cleaner) that are so whacked-out and intensely ridiculous, it's almost pointless to get offended by them. Even the character of Zohan himself, a Middle-Eastern Arthur Fonzarelli who can't stop grinding his pelvis and seducing elderly customers, looks like one of the failed characters Sacha Baron Cohen tried out on his way to creating Borat.
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It's funny that Sandler has the solution for the Middle East crisis (in this case, it's let everyone come to America so they can become hairstylists, hand models and shoe salesmen), but he can't figure out how to edit a film. A madhouse comedy like "Zohan" has no reason to be two hours long, with its floundering plot lines and near-endless stream of shoulda-been-deleted scenes (all crudely captured on digital video by longtime Sandler director Dennis Dugan). After seeing it, you may find yourself mentally excising the lame parts of the movie out of your head. But I'm assuming he writes and shoots scenes mostly to cast his friends, who, as in any Sandler film, really all come out of the woodwork. (Yes, Rob Schneider is back with another lousy accent.)
I will say this: By the time Dave Matthews shows up as a white supremacist ready to blow up a block of Middle Easterners -- and a cage full of puppies -- you will have either just given up and succumbed to the nonsense of "You Don't Mess with the Zohan," or just given up entirely.