You Don't Mess With The Zohan

You Don't Mess With The Zohan


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Let's get one thing clear at the start. In this film, Adam Sandler plays a Mossad agent. Early scenes show him fighting Palestinian terrorists. There are lots of jokes about the Middle Eastern conflict. If you feel that this is inappropriate subject matter for a comedy, don't go to see this film.

Sandler's character is Zohan, one of the world's top anti-terrorist agents, a free running, kung fu kicking, seemingly unstoppable warrior who also happens to like disco and has terrible taste in clothes. Frustrated with the secret agent life, he fakes his own death in order to travel to America and pursue his dream of becoming a hairdresser. When the only place which will hire him turns out to be run by a beautiful Palestinian woman (Emmanuelle Chriqui), the scene is set not only for an ingenue-in-the-big-city tale but also for a romance that will change our hero's whole take on life. On top of this we meet the local terrorist-wannabes who hope to take him down, and the big mean property developer who wants to destroy the area where his salon is based. None of this is fresh, but it's approached with a certain vigour and a disarming lack of pretension.

Copy picture

As with most of Adam Sandler's work, this is a comedy full of crude humour, slapstick and deliberate offensiveness, but it is all essentially playful and good natured. In his own way, Sandler is making a serious statement about the conflicts with which the film deals, pointing out the ridiculous nature of extreme positions and the fundamental childishness of hero worship on both sides. The film's resolution may be twee but the message it underscores is a real one - to many rich Americans, all poor immigrants look alike. How much sense does it make to bear a grudge against people who're on the receiving end of the same racist prejudice as you are?

Many of You Don't Mess With The Zohan's jokes are lame. Early sequences, in particular, struggle to rise above playground-level stupidity. But there are a lot of nice touches later on which help to bring the film to life. In particular, it's refreshing in its treatment of older women. Those whom Zohan makes happy in the salon - in his own special way - are never treated as objects of mockery, but are made genuinely glamorous, and their pleasure is taken seriously. Similarly, the film shows respect for struggling immigrants who work several jobs at once and screw over their customers at every opportunity, without needing to pull comedic punches in the process. Everybody here (except, perhaps, rich property developers) comes across as a properly rounded person, which means we can engage with them, which means the jokes gradually get better. Which is good, because Sandler's OTT disco stud routine can only hold the attention for so long and the plot runs out of steam pretty early.

You Don't Mess With The Zohan is not Sandler's best work, but it's a brave take on difficult material and it gets away with it much better than anyone had a right to expect.

Reviewed on: 14 Aug 2008
Share this with others on...
You Don't Mess With The Zohan packshot
A Mossad agent fakes his own death in order to start a new life as a hairdresser in America.
Amazon link

Director: Dennis Dugan

Writer: Adam Sandler, Robert Smigel

Starring: Adam Sandler, Emmanuelle Chriqui, John Turturro, Nick Swardson, Lainie Kazan, Ido Mosseri, Rob Schneider

Year: 2008

Runtime: 113 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US


Search database: