I think my favorite moment is the Catty Sack scene, in which an unfortunate feline is festively booted around a room from one foot to another. Then again, the squalling toddler instantly subdued by a nerve-pinch to the neck is pretty wonderful, too. It’s hard to decide. “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” the new Adam Sandler movie , has an abundance of daffy visual gags and some pungent lines of the most politically incorrect sort (although swaddled in thick faux Middle Eastern accents). The picture is also a goofy satire of Arab-Israeli relations, and already there’s been earnest media whining about this — the playing of such a combustible subject for laughs. Too bad for the whiners that the picture is so funny.
“Zohan” is a first-time alignment of three top comedy stars: Sandler, here in his least infantile and thus most appealing mode, cowrote the script with his old bud Judd Apatow, the reigning master of box-office gross, and Robert Smigel, best known as the man with his hand up the butt of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. (Smigel has appeared as an actor in several previous Sandler films, and he appears in this one, too.) The plot is predictably ridiculous. It’s about a celebrated Israeli military assassin named Zohan (Sandler), whose expertise in the violent arts ranges from catching bullets in his nostrils to disabling bad guys by tying them into pretzel knots. But Zohan, a disco stud at heart, is weary of terminating Arab terrorists and longs for a more peaceful life as a hairstylist. (He’s the last living fan of the ’80s feather cut.) After faking his own death in a showdown with a notorious Palestinian jihadi called the Phantom (John Turturro), he lights out for New York to pursue his dream.
In Manhattan, Zohan finds a job at a small salon run by a beautiful Palestinian woman named Daria (Emmanuelle Chriqui, of “Entourage”). The shop is on a street populated by Arab immigrants on one side and Jews on the other; and while it must be admitted that the movie does find Arabs to be a little funnier than their desert brethren, the laughs generally go both ways. (A Jewish-run electronics store that’s actually called Going Out of Business offers cheap cell phones “with free HBO.”) Zohan is inspired by the sight of such peaceful coexistence; soon, however, he’s ID’d by an angry Arab taxi driver (Rob Schneider, in one of his less wearying performances), who puts in a long-distance call to the Phantom (“What’s the area code for Amman?”), who in turn hops on a plane to New York, intent on taking out his nemesis once and for all.
There’s lots of dumb sex humor in the movie, much of it hilarious. Zohan carries around what UPS would call a very large package; and his hair-styling technique — an instant hit among the horde of old ladies who are soon lining up for it — includes a post-cut carnal top-up in a back room. (“You are an angel,” he purrs to one satisfied senior. “An angel with the flexibility of a circus freak.”) There’s also a Hacky Sack tournament at which Mariah Carey turns up to sing the national anthem (and contribute some non-sequitur Blu-Ray observations), and an unusual amount of hummus consciousness. (Who knew the pasty treat was so useful for both hair-washing and tooth-brushing?)
A subplot about an evil construction mogul who’s trying to evict Daria from her hair salon fails to be quite as funny as just about everything else going on around it. But since just about everything else going on around it really is funny, it would be churlish to gripe about this. Will “Zohan” bring peace to the Middle East? Well, nothing else has worked. And as one character puts it, “They’ve been fighting for 2000 years. It can’t be much longer.”
Check out Kurt Loder’s review of “Kung Fu Panda” right here.
Check out everything we’ve got on “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan.”
For breaking news, celebrity columns, humor and more — updated around the clock — visit MTVMoviesBlog.com.