The only thing more amusing than laughing at yourself must be laughing at your cousins. Adam Sandler has made a career out of mocking himself and other Beverly Hills and New York Jews. Wouldn’t those jokes be funnier with a connection to the Holy Land? And why not laugh at the greatest absurdity in the Middle East — Israelis fighting Palestinians and vice versa? The high-handed premise doesn’t always work in Zohan but you have to admire the chutzpah in trying it. Sandler’s humor is not for everyone (to put it mildly) and in Zohan, he goes over the top, or if you will, scrapes the bottom, so be warned. If you have a low tolerance for gross and stupid humor, put the kibosh on any desire to see Zohan.
Zohan Dvir is the greatest Mossad agent. He can leap tall buildings with a single bound, charm all the local girls with his bulging crotch and biceps, single-handedly tear apart Hamas –and he still lives at home with Mom and Dad (Dina Doron and Shelley Berman) Zohan’s violent exploits are legendary He’s “like a Rembrandt with a grenade.” But Zohan is sick of being a national hero. “The fighting, it never ends,” he moans. He wants to stop killing his neighbors. In fact, he wants to leave Israel and live in America. He has a secret dream that he dare not share with anyone. Like other men treasure the Koran or the Bible, Zohan holds a 1980s Paul Mitchell hair styling catalog. “I just want to make people silky smooth,” he whispers.
In a hand-to hand conflict in the Dead Sea with his nemesis, the Palestinian terrorist and restaurant entrepreneur known as The Phantom (John Turturro), Zohan fakes his own death and escapes to New York City. He thinks everyone in The Big Apple will admire him as much as they did in Israel, especially with his new hair style and his bouncy 1980s disco body language. Alas, Zohan is just another wannabe in the world capital of wannabes and like other undocumented aliens, he’s out of luck on streets that are definitely not painted with gold. He finds refuge with a helpful stranger, Michael (Nick Swardson). and Michael’s very horny mother Gail, played to the earth-mother hilt by the queen of good times, Lainie Kazan.
Eventually Zohan manages to convince the owner of a hair salon to hire him. As luck would have it, the beautiful salon owner Dalia (Canadian Emmanuelle Chriqui), happens to be–you guessed it–from Palestine.
“One woman, one zipper, one life,” Zohan begins to fantasize.
Zohan not only proves himself a Sassoon with the scissors but also a master of the back room, where he takes his elderly female customers and makes whoopee as the final sty ling touch. Soon there’s a line of grey-haired ladies around the block, all waiting happily for the full treatment of Zohan’s silky smooth signature style.
Some Palestinian immigrants recognize Zohan and The Phantom arrives to kill Zohan once and for all. In the most mature, even touching moment of the film, Zohan decides to end the cycle of violence and refuses to respond when The Phantom slaps him. Zohan’s pacifist reaction is a shock to all the onlookers who are ready to tear one another to pieces. It’s a truly benign moment and lasts long enough for you to realize that you have forgive Sandler for all the schlock that surrounded it.
You leave the theatre wondering how Zohan will play in movie theatres in the Middle East. Can the Israelis and Palestinians pause from their fighting long enough to see the movie? Can cousins laugh at themselves?