I can't help myself. Adam Sandler is absolutely one of my favorite cinematic guilty pleasures.
Of course, I use the term "guilty pleasure" a bit loosely. Usually, the term applies to bad films that you enjoy anyway. In all honesty, I both like and respect Adam Sandler's films. Having proven himself capable of actually acting in films such as "Reign Over Me" and "Punch-Drunk Love," Sandler returns to his comic roots with "You Don't Mess With The Zohan," in which he plays an elite Israeli commando who fakes his own death so that he can pursue his dream of being a hair stylist in New York City.
"You Don't Mess With The Zohan" flashes back to Sandler's earlier comedy gems like "Billy Madison" and "Big Daddy" with Sandler's trademark schoolboy humor, genuine heart and simplistic feel-good messages.
In the case of "Zohan," the message is simple..."Hate is stupid" is the intrinsic value of the character Zohan, a man/boy simultaneously ruled by lust and the ability to treat virtually anyone as if they are the most special person in the world.
With a spot-on Israeli accent and a "Saturday Night Fever" style strut, Sandler's Zohan may be a nearly perfect combination of juvenile Sandler and the more mature Sandler of recent years. While it would be easy to dismiss "Zohan" with its excessive obsession with genitalia and hummus, Sandler has worked with co-writers Judd Apatow and Robert Smigel to create a film that is surprisingly insightful and intelligent while never fully letting go of Sandler's innocent charm.
One of my favorite things about Sandler is his innate ability to create characters who are completely adorable even when they are losers, oddballs, killers or loners. Unlike virtually any comedian working today, Sandler seems to have a genuine affection for his characters and it's that genuine affection that shines through and makes his films a notch above other similar comedies.
Having made a name for himself in Israel, Zohan has grown tired of the violence between Israel and Palestine. While he is easily one of the country's leading commandos, Zohan aspires to a gentler life cutting and styling hair. When he's asked to go after one of Palestine's leading commandos, the Phantom (John Turturro), he takes the opportunity to be "killed" and head off to America for a quiet life and reinvents himself as Scrappy Coco.
Of course, being New York he quickly runs into a fight where he rescues a nerdish bicyclist (Sandler regular Nick Swardson) and quickly finds himself housing with him and his mother, Lainie Kazan as I'm pretty sure you've never seen her.
Having carried around the same 1987 hairstyle book of Paul Mitchell's for years, Sandler shows up in Mitchell's salon seeking a job looking all, well, 1987. Of course, he's rejected. Dejected, he winds his way around New York City and ends up working in the salon of a beautiful Palestinian stylist, Dalia (Emmanuelle Chrique, "Entourage").
Despite his best efforts, working and living on a block with Palestinians on one side and Israelis on the other probably wasn't the best way to remain anonymous. Scrappy quickly makes a name for himself in the salon for his singlemindedly sexual hair styling techniques and his post-styling treatment of ladies young and old, thick and thin. This includes a rather unexpected cameo from a certain former television house mother who once taught the facts of life.
All this notoriety, however, brings Scrappy lots of attention and he's eventually identified by a Palestinian cabbie (Rob Schneider) whose goat he once took during an altercation.
I know what you're thinking...gee, Richard, this all sounds awfully lame. Truthfully, as I was watching the trailers I found myself expecting the same thing.
Sandler, though, is so gleeful as Zohan that it's nearly impossible to not become charmed by him and get swept up in the silliest of situations.
It nearly goes without saying, being that this is a Sandler comedy, that there will be conflicts along the way, injustice will be swept away and everyone will find a way to get along in the end.
Being a Sandler comedy, as well, it's almost destiny that a variety of cameos will sprinkle the film including regulars such as Henry Winkler and Chris Rock along with a few unexpected delights. Unlike many comedies where cameos can be distracting, Sandler has so consistently surrounded himself with the same crew that it would be more distracting if they didn't show up.
As much as I laughed consistently throughout "Zohan," it's worth noting that the film does occasionally fall flat. This seems largely owing to Dennis Dugan's occasionally off pacing and editing that occasionally extends scenes too long or cuts them too short.
It'll be interesting to see how vintage Sandler plays opposite the Jack Black-led animated feature, "Kung Fu Panda" this weekend as both films seem to offer their leading stars the opportunity to return to their roots.
As over-the-top as "You Don't Mess With The Zohan" is, Sandler has cut back on the over-exaggerated gestures and articulations and instead finds humor in the broadly human situations of his characters. It may be the perfect way for Sandler to please both the fans of his juvenile humor and those who appreciate his growing ability to create solid characterizations.
While "You Don't Mess With The Zohan" certainly won't win any awards this year (okay, maybe an MTV award), it's a delightful return to comedy form for Adam Sandler.
Laugh out loud funny, endearing, richly human and with a touch of political intelligence, "You Don't Mess With The Zohan" is, indeed, silky smooth.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic