Adam Sandler has a ball (pun intended) with this film, and we have almost as fun as he does for the first half.

James Plath's picture

There were moments in "You Don't Mess with the Zohan" that reminded me of "Happy Gilmore" because they were so outlandish and farcical--the kind of rapid-fire gags based on character that make you laugh though you know they're stupid and you probably shouldn't. And for the first two-thirds of the film there were enough of those moments to balance the really dumb ones, so I announced to my wife that I thought this Adam Sandler film was a 6 out of 10. "Shouldn't you wait for the big finish before you decide?" she suggested. Of course.

Make that a 5 out of 10.

Until an ending that felt like the drum of dumb--and me the sneakers in a dryer that just kept going and going--Zohan (Sandler) had me with his over-the-top portrayal of a retired Israeli counterterrorist agent who came to America to pursue his dream of becoming a hair stylist. Zohan is part Happy Gilmore and part Yakov Smirnoff ("What a country!"), a lively character who's a little naïve, a little sweet, a little dangerous, and more than a little oversexed. With his gold chain, disco attitude, and ideas of style dictated by an outdated magazine, Zohan is also as much of an anachronism as Austin Powers.

But it's hard to escape your past, even if you do a bang-up job of faking your death and find gainful employment in the tiniest little troubled beauty salon in a Manhattan neighborhood that's populated by a mixture of Palestinians and Jews. One of the Jews recognizes Zohan, and so, unfortunately, does his nemesis from the Old Country, a Palestinian terrorist-wannabe cabbie (Rob Schneider) named Salim.

Sandler co-wrote the script with SNL veteran Robert Smigel and Judd Apatow ("Knocked Up," "Superbad," "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story"), and it's clearly a joyous return to the silly comedies that made Sandler a star in the first place. Sandler really seems to be enjoying himself, as does Schneider. Manhattan turns out to be a small place, though, as the beautiful woman who hires him (Emmanuelle Chriqui) is a Palestinian, and running around the burrough looking like a WWF character is Zohan's nemesis, The Phantom (John Turturro), who operates a terror cell and trains by swallowing glasses of eggs (already hatched into chicks) and punching sides of beef, Rocky-style (including a still alive-and-kicking cow). Sandler and Co. should have stopped right there, because if anything kills the mood, it's the inclusion of a tired and shopworn ultra-nemisis: real estate developers who hire right wing nuts to pose as Israelis and Arabs and firebomb businesses to stir up tensions, so people will want to sell and move out.

Zohan on a neighborhood watch is entertaining, but as it was with Warren Beatty in "Shampoo," the pure delight comes from watching Sandler-as-Zohan interact with the female customers who line up in droves to have their hair cut by Scrappy Coco, as the Zohan is known. It begins innocently enough, with a little old-woman flattery about the desirability of her "teats and ass," and then progresses to a few pelvic grinds during the styling, and finally all-out sex. The unrated extended version offers four more minutes of the bare butt stuff than the theatrical film, but both prints get a little raunchy. The movie version is rated PG-13 for "crude and sexual content throughout, language and nudity." And it's not always pretty. Near-septuagenarian Lainie Kazan isn't bashful about showing her tush, for example.

Now, admittedly I'm allergic to cats and have felt the need to use my foot to guide them away from me when I visit a home that's infested with them, but the gag that cracked me up the most was a clever CGI sequence where Zohan and two pals play hacky-sack with a live, screaming cat. I can picture others cringing when they watch that gag. That's the effect that a number of the jokes have. Either you're going to laugh in spite of your better judgment, or you're going to cringe. But the cringe factor is only part of why this film ultimately falls short of being the second coming of "Happy Gilmore." It's that real-estate developer nonsense and an ending that spends all of the cleverness capital that the film built up in the first two-thirds. I can't say it's the directing, though you'd think a director might have been more insistent about changes in the script. But Dennis Dugan ("Big Daddy," "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry") might have been a little reluctant to change too many of Sandler's lines, especially when he's a producer as well. Who can blame him? Sandler's a talent and a force, but like Robin Williams he can use someone to tell him when the deep end isn't worth diving into.

I hadn't seen this in theaters and so I don't have that frame of reference to report how the Blu-ray compares, but I was surprised at how generally soft this film looks in 1080p (AVC/MPEG-4 codec). Colors aren't anywhere close to fully saturated, and in so many of he scenes it's almost as if there were a barely perceptible atmospheric haze hanging over the production. I didn't notice any artifacts, but maybe they were also hard to see because the black levels seemed low. The result is that there's no real sense of 3-dimensionality here. Like the film itself, the picture quality is disappointing.

The audio is better, but the distribution of sound across the speakers isn't dynamic, and so the English or French Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks are nothing to write home about. The bass seems a little flat to my ears. There's an alternate soundtrack (Thai Dolby Digital 5.1) and subtitles in Indonesian/Bahasa, Korean, Thai, Chinese, French, English, and English SDH.

The only Blu-ray exclusive bonus feature is a pop-up trivia track that didn't really engage me. The commentary track with Sandler, Robert Smigel, Rob Schneider and Nick Swardson is entertaining enough, but they cover all the usual bases and anecdotes (how people got into the project, what they were trying to do, how they approached their roles, etc.) and there's almost a self-consciousness of a color commentator, like, "Oh, we're supposed to be amusing as well as insightful." Then there's the director's track, with Dugan offering a more nuts-and-bolts approach.

Fans who are fascinated by the filming process might enjoy 15 behind-the-scenes featurettes that probably could have been assembled into one large bonus feature: Look Who Stopped By, Dugan, The Hand's on Director, The Stunts of Zohan, Dugan Espanol?, Zohan vs. the Phantom, Zohan's Doubles, Shooting Baja for Tel Aviv, All American Redneck, From Guns to Scissors, Three "News on 3" Reports, The Robot, Getting Sticky, and Laughing is Contagious. Everyone is going to have their favorites, but I always like to see the director at work and to see how they adapt a location to look like someplace clear on the other side of the world.

This disc is BD-Live enabled, and so consumers who buy this can go online to download additional features and also register their product in order to qualify for Sony's new Blu-ray Rewards Program.

Bottom Line:
Adam Sandler has a ball (pun intended) with this film, and we have almost as much fun as he does for the first half of the film. Maybe the jokes don't fire on all cylinders and maybe the finale fizzles, but a goofy and energetic Adam Sandler sizzles with his pelvic antics and his phony-baloney Israeli accent. And these days, who can't use a few laughs?


Film Value