You Don't Mess With the Zohan

Director: Dennis Dugan

Lathering up with frightening amounts of shampoo, the women in director Joshua Logan’s 1958 South Pacific sang Rodgers and Hammerstein’s memorable battle cry, “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair.” Now fifty years later, elderly women from the era of South Pacific dutifully line up along a busy New York street for their opportunity to wash that man right into their hair in Adam Sandler’s latest Happy Madison production, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan.

And while the hairstyles taken from an early 1980’s Paul Mitchell book leave much to be desired, the suggestive shampoo and titillating trim provided by their freakishly acrobatic stylist Zohan (Sandler) seem to serve as foreplay to the man who goes to extreme carnal lengths to ensure his clients leave the salon completely satisfied. Although Warren Beatty’s stylist George Roundy in director Hal Asbhy’s 1975 classic Shampoo tried to hide his philandering nymphomania, to the outrageously frank Zohan, it seems as though it’s never occurred to him that there were any other way to finish his appointments or display his gratitude to any woman who offers him the slightest hint of kindness than by offering them a trip to the back room.

This being said, while in most movies, we’d label him a simple gigolo (or to use my favorite term “manwhore”), in the hands of writers Sandler, Judd Apatow (Knocked Up) and Robert Smigel (the former SNL staff writer most famous for voicing Conan O’Brien’s Triumph the Insult Comic Dog), it becomes far more ridiculously complicated as we’re first introduced to Zohan in his native Israel where he’s one of the country’s most popular and none too top secret counterterrorist commandos. Admitting that he just wants “to make people silky smooth,” and beginning to tire of the endless fighting and hatred that’s been continuing for thousands of years, Zohan makes a bold decision to fake his death at the hands of his sworn Palestinian enemy The Phantom (an underwritten John Turturro) so he can escape to New York City and fulfill his dreams to become a stylist. Adopting the name of two dogs he stowed away with on his flight, Zohan transforms his look and persona, renaming himself Scrappy Coco.

After a few failed attempts, Zohan/Scrappy accepts a position initially as a hair sweeper until fate intervenes and like an understudy awaiting a big break, Zohan gets the chance to “perform” as the neighborhood lothario hairdresser, winning the hearts of the city’s seniors while losing his own to his gorgeous Palestinian boss Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui). However, predictably, Zohan’s future is threatened when both the past catches up with him and new corporate villains of present begin to come out of the woodwork, culminating into a rushed, unsatisfying result—similar to cleansing one’s hair with a drug store 2 in 1 shampoo and conditioner.

Still Zohan is surprisingly much better than one would think, especially given the disastrous recent Happy Madison releases including Click. Although Sandler reunites all of his friends including Henry Winkler, Chris Rock, Kevin Nealon, Rob Schneider and more (including a pointless Mariah Carey cameo) for wasted walk-ons, the film is unexpectedly successful in its first sixty minutes when the inventive laughs derived directly from Zohan’s outrageous, unpredictable antics which were best spotlighted in the salon sequences.

While it’s a bit rough around the edges and the ends begin to split as the film passes the eighty minute mark in an entirely unconvincing and painfully unfunny “We Are the World” inspired climax, which would have benefited considerably with a new style at the writing stage, it’s Sandler’s most enjoyable work since Spanglish and his most comedic since 50 First Dates. Even though Zohan may make you think twice before giving your grandmother a gift card to a salon, the high energy displayed by Sandler as he dances his way right into elderly women’s hair is worth the price of admission alone and one of the funniest sequences you’re likely to see in a rather unremarkable looking crop of ’08 summer comedies.