You Don't Mess with the Zohan (Unrated)

I have never been a big fan of scrotums being bandied about. So, when the add campaign for You Don’t Mess With the Zohan came to town, and its crown jewel was Adam Sandler’s package, I was not excited. Every poster seemed to be dedicated to this mysterious demographic which was previously unknown to me: ball sack lovers. The balls humor is continuous throughout the movie. Although, I will say, the groin humor is quite dynamic: it morphs through a spectrum of filth with frat-boy grace. Zohan takes you from schlong humor, to pube humor, to butt cheek humor and back again so many times that the entire movie becomes like lowbrow visual poetry: unwatchable, unpleasant, and disgusting.

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan follows the Zohan (Adam Sandler), an Israeli counter-terrorist, as he decides to move stateside to pursue his dream of becoming a hair dresser. “I just want to make people silky smooth,” Zohan cries on his bed before deciding to grab his goals by the… ahem… afore mentioned body parts. I only wish that this movie could have been as “silky smooth” as some of Sandler’s other films.

Any of the Austin Powers movies are great examples of schlock with a touch of taste and a lot of laughs. The Powers movies use tricky innuendoes and cleverly placed fruit-baskets to stick with the harsher PG-13 ratings of yore. Zohan uses bawdy-sounding made up words and graphic sex noises to cheat the same rating. The character of Zohan seems to be an attempt to modernize the type of rock-star sex-God persona Mike Myers has so capably embodied as Austin Powers. With too many tacky jokes, too much implied sex, and too many one dimensional stereotypes, Zohan overshoots the taste mark that Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery set, back in 1997.

At first, the movie doesn’t have enough central tension. The protagonist has everything his way, how and when he wants it. His personal life soars and he is amazing at his job. Everyone in Israel, his home country, loves him. Once he makes the decision to become a hairdresser, that goal too, is fairly unhindered. This character is good at absolutely everything he tries to do. Although Zohan has a nemesis in a Palestinian terrorist played by John Tuturro, the doppelganger is not an actual threat.

After an hour of watching Sandler dancing and discoing about, with his France meets Mexico meets the Middle East accent and unbearably harsh stereotyping, I was ready puke. That’s when the subplots starts getting introduced: Rob Schneider as a cabby out to get Zohan, Michael Buffer as a bigwig CEO out to squash the Israeli/Palestinian neighborhood, and more from the Zohan's nemesis the Phantom. Suddenly, there is too much central tension. It turns out, the uncut version of this movie is almost two hours (only about 6 minutes longer than the theatrical version). With two too many subplots to tie up, and the love interest to concretize, the movie has too much to accomplish and doesn't care to keep it short or eloquent.

Many Adam Sandler movies attempt to conquer extremely large problems like short term memory loss (50 First Dates), man child syndrome (Billy Madison), and unhinged hostility (Anger Management), with comedy. Many Sandler movies do so successfully, and make you think lighter of these issues without feeling guilty afterwards. Zohan is the opposite of that. It goes too far. If you pay to watch this movie you will feel guilty.

Zohan is, of course, trying to make light of terrorism, but it is a tasteless and insensitive move. The film’s portrayal of Israelites and Palestinians is so one note and stereotypical, it's like Borat without the self awareness. At one point, the Zohan whispers into the year of an eight year old boy: “When I was your age, I had already killed 7 men. Maybe you should grow up?” Although, in the end, the conflict between the Middle Easterners is resolved, the movie still glorifies violence and terrorism throughout. Not only that, but the Zohan objectifies, screws and belittles his way through every woman in the script. This is one Adam Sandler movie that is unforgivable.

In the end, the movie implies that, with a little good old fashioned talking, Israel and Palestine can sort this whole thing out. The “whole thing” being years of violent conflict based on land ownership and hatred. During the closing credits the female costar (Emmanuelle Chriqui) wears a t-shirt that says “I <3 Peace.” Perhaps the costume designer of this movie is trying to imply that this t-shirt, in conjunction with the movie, could spark world peace. As she wears the shirt, Chriqui stands, a Palestinian woman, at the center of a mall called “Brotherly Love,” basking in the glow of her new Israeli husband. Maybe, with the right rack, and the right placement, this t-shirt could be somewhat effective, but Chriqui’s jugs don’t fit the bill, and You Don’t Mess With the Zohan is definitely not the right platform. For anyone who truly does enjoy this movie, the special features will be just ecstasy. Even I enjoy them, and I loathe the film. The deleted scenes all allow the actors with smaller parts to shine. Although they are not fully unutilized in Zohan, Rob Schneider, Nick Swardson and John Tuturro are all brilliant comedy actors. John McEnroe’s cut sequences are full-on hilarious. The deleted scenes are a must see and made me understand why Zohan was so truly disappointing: I actually like Sandler and company!

There are ten featurettes - count ‘em, ten! They are all delightful. It’s obvious that the movie was a blast to make and that everyone involved truly enjoyed themselves. There is one particularly touching featurette about how the Middle Eastern actors from various countries got along and had long discussions over the lunch table. It is extremely touching and Egyptian actor, Sayed Badreaya’s (Ironman) take was straight out inspirational: “It changed my life. It changed my thinking about [the conflict]. War is war.” Although I find the movie to be highly racist, the fact that real Middle Eastern actors were hired and enjoyed working together peacefully does give me a touch of respect for the flick.

There are two commentary tracks that both leave much to be desired. Director Dennis Dugan shows up for his own commentary, sounding exhausted and turned off by the whole experience of having to talk over his movie. The real knowledge I gleaned from his commentary is that he and Sandler have made a ton of movies together, to the point of redundancy. He admits, “I’m not saying we’re good at making movies, but we certainly make a lot of them.” Yeah, enjoy your lavish lifestyle, Dugan. You’re a sell-out.

The other commentary features comics Nick Swardson, Rob Schneider, Adam Sandler and scriptwriter Robert Smiegel. It is basically a masturbatory hang out session with Sandler and friends. Schneider and Swardson are fairly quiet, except for Swardson’s constant stroking of “The Sand Man’s” ego. Sandler and Smeigel proselytize about the merits of their hilarious and meaningful movie. The one piece of pertinent information that we glean from this commentary is that this movie was written in 2000 (therefore before 9/11) and was shelved after the Trade Centers went down. I’m not sure if that makes the stereotyping worse or better. I will say that I feel like, although it did spawn a few cross-cultural friendships, this movie “messes” with the well being of the already tenuous racial dynamic of our country.