First, the good news: Unlike nearly every Adam Sandler movie in recent memory, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan isn’t overloaded with sappy sentiment, and it doesn’t end with hugs and tears and lessons learned (well, okay, it does, but only a little bit). And Sandler even branches out slightly from his typical overgrown-man-child persona (which infects even his dramatic roles) as Zohan, a nearly superhuman Israeli secret agent who tires of killing terrorists and wants to start a new life as a hairdresser.
The bad news is that Zohan’s quest to become the next Paul Mitchell is marked by jokes that miss more often than they hit, seriously slack pacing, subplots that go nowhere, half-assed political commentary and Rob Schneider. Of course, it wouldn’t be an Adam Sandler comedy without Schneider doing his all-purpose ethnic shtick, this time as an Iraqi cabbie who recognizes Zohan in New York City, after Zohan has faked his own death and undergone an image makeover to look like a member of Color Me Badd (who are, naturally, on the soundtrack).
The cabbie conveys Zohan’s whereabouts to his archenemy, Palestinian terrorist The Phantom (Turturro), eventually setting the stage for a showdown. In the meantime, Zohan falls for Dalia (Chriqui), the Palestinian owner of the hair salon where he finds work. As a character, Zohan owes more to Borat, with his comical misunderstanding of American culture and unrestrained sexuality, than to any previous Sandler creations, and is inconsistent both in tone and in relative intelligence depending on what a given scene calls for.
If the movie’s stabs at addressing the conflict between Jews and Arabs are as tossed-off and disingenuous as the calls for tolerance in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, at least the jokes are funnier, and occasionally even hit their satirical targets. With a premise better suited for a series of skits than a feature film, Zohan eventually falls apart in a heap of pointless celebrity cameos and repetitive jokes about hummus, but there are moments when its over-the-top absurdity is as funny as anything Sandler has ever done.