Adam Sandler’s forged his career on being an exceptional goof, an odd, over-sized child with One Big Talent, be it golf, women, or wedding singing. His Zohan is an omnipotent Mossad agent for the Israeli Army able to vault off high rises, swim like a dolphin, and catch bullets in his nose. While schooling a squad of Palestinians headed by The Phantom (John Turturro), one asks with sincerity, “So we are the bad guys?” Zohan doesn’t have time to debate politics; his most pointed assessment is that the war is futile, not wrong. “They’ve been fighting for 2,000 years, it can’t last much longer,” counters his mom (Dina Doron). But Zohan reckons it will and fakes his own death to flee to Manhattan where he dreams of styling hair at the Paul Mitchell Salon, an arbitrary gag that exists only for everyone to question his masculinity. His giant package and knack for scoring chicks argue otherwise, but then the bulge in his Speedos turns out to be pubic hair and most of his conquests qualify for the Seniors Discount at Shoney’s. Zohan’s a shallow character even by Sandler’s standards, a bunch of crotch thrusts in search of a laugh. They don’t get many, but the surrounding jokes are better—particularly the silent surreal ones where Sandler uses a cat as a hacky sack and hummus for toothpaste and coffee cream.
Zohan lands in a New York that’s flooded with immigrants who aren’t much more attuned to global affairs then the average Kansas teen. Surrogate mom and milf Gail (Lainie Kazan) credits apartheid to Australia, a something-accented Chris Rock shrugs off his lucky solo move to the States with “Mi bruthas and sistas were hacked to death, but I love the Chinese food,” and when the Arabs and Jews sharing the tense city block where Zohan cuts hair for Delia (Emmanuelle Chriqui) argue politics, the conversation quickly devolves into whether they’d bang Chelsea Clinton.
Sandler and co-writers Robert Smigel and Judd Apatow shelved Zohan after 911, and it’s understandable they doubted a film about Arabs and Jews duking it out in the Lower East Side. The only thing worse than an Adam Sandler flick that dabbles in Mideast politics is one that does but won’t engage them. Zohan does this in a roundabout chorus of the misinformed—which includes Rob Schneider aping his way through another embarrassing foreigner, this one a taxi driver and would-be jihadist. Directed by Sandler ringer Dennis Dugan, the flick giddily traffics in stereotypes. The Middle Easterners—Arab and Jew alike—are decades out of date, worshipping disco, feathered hair, hacky sack and Mariah Carey (who makes a cameo). The running silent gag—their refusal to admit their differences—go unseen to the rest of New York, who considers them simply terrorists or Mexicans. As Zohan stumbles into resolving the Israeli-Palestinian tension, a feat more impossible than his no-handed pushups, he discovers that the true villains are white developers helmed by Michael “Let’s get ready to ruuuumble!” Buffer who are stirring up the block in order to tear it down for a mall. I’d like to replace “white” with “corporate”—the true baddies—but in a rankling (if funny) the script has Buffer join forces with racist rednecks. Ultimately, Zohan learns that the only way to stop the 2000 Years War is to refuse to fight back. It’s a lesson worth sharing, except his superhero is the only one able to withstand a sword to the neck.