Rating: 2 stars
They say most movie pitches can be boiled down to a quick sentence, usually combining two hit movies (it’s Titanic meets Lord of the Rings!) to create some unstoppable box office juggernaut. But lordy, starting with the awkward title (You Don’t Mess with. . . Lindsay Lohan?) and right down to the premise—super hero Israeli counterterrorist fakes his own death so he can fulfill his dream of being a New York hair stylist—I’m not quite sure what Adam Sandler was going for here. Shampoo meets Ishtar? Hard to Kill meets La Cage Aux Folles?
Actually, I can see how a few of the film’s running jokes would work as SNL skits. A disco-loving commando who catches bullets with his teeth and dreams of being a hairdresser? Funny, in starts. A hairdresser who’s stuck in the 80s and thinks the style isn’t complete unless it’s “silky smooth” and feathered? Funny, in dribs and drabs. A would-be lothario hairdresser who styles and beds little old ladies? Actually, kinda gross.
But the problem is, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan never met a joke it didn’t want to stomp to death with a combat boot. A recurring bit about the many uses of hummus wears thin, as does the “silky smooth” bit, the bedding old ladies bit, the Zohan has an armadillo in his trousers bit, the Zohan twists his enemies into a pretzel bit, the hackysack bit, the Oedipal anxiety bit (Zohan is bedding his roommate’s mother), the disco bit, and so on. And I haven’t even mentioned Rob Schneider (why, Adam Sandler, why?) as a Palestinian cab driver who recognizes The Zohan and tries to capture him.
Here’s my theory on You Don’t Mess With the Zohan: Adam Sandler saw Borat, the work of another nice Jewish boy with a great sense of humor that plays broadly with ethnic stereotypes, and he said, hey, that’s my métier! I want my Borat! But, with all due respect to Sandler, he’s no Sasha Baron Cohen. (Come to think of it, Adam Sandler is too much of a mensch to rival the wickedly satirical Cohen, who actually isn’t such a nice Jewish boy after all. In Sandler’s film, the Palestinians and the Israelis all learn to get along.)
Mostly, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan feels like a failed experiment. It's just not funny enough. Turns out, when you combine Rambo and Hairspray it doesn’t make for such a great time at the movies, after all.