If my expectations for "You Don't Mess With the Zohan" were any lower, they would be headed into negative territory. I thought the film's overly goofy title would turn off audiences and the trailer lacked anything beyond a few cheesy one-liners and a couple of gags. Imagine my surprise when the movie turns out to be...well, not awful. Sandler plays legendary Israeli counter-terrorist agent Zohan, who has grown tired of all the fighting, which never seems to be anywhere close to an end.
His dream is is to leave the country and move to the states to become a hairdresser, but when it looks like he'll have too much difficulty, he decides to fake his own death when he gets into a battle with arch-rival "The Phantom" (John Tuturro). After picking up his belongings from a friendly bird who'd been holding them for him (the bird also gets one of the movie's better throwaway gags early on), he heads off to New York City, shipping himself in the cargo bin with a couple of dogs (whose names he uses to create his new identity, Scrappy Coco.)
Although his dream of working at Paul Mitchell's salon doesn't work out as expected, he gets encouragement from others to keep up his dream, which leads him to Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui)'s salon. While she's skeptical due to his lack of experience, he starts off sweeping up hair (and doesn't let a hair touch the ground) and - after one of Dalia's employees leaves - he gets his chance. Managing to make a simple haircut much more "interesting" for the older women that come into the salon, Dalia comes to work to find lines down the block.
While Zohan seems to be living the dream, problems arise - a tycoon tries to push out the shops in Dalia's neighborhood in order to make way for a mall, while Salim (Rob Schneider), a cab driver who once had his goat taken by Zohan as a penalty for a thrown shoe, recognizes Zohan and calls the Phantom. The remainder has Zohan trying to woo Dalia, save the neighborhood and face off against the Phantom. There's also a bizarre hackey-sack tournament (hackey-sacking is one of the film's running gags, including - in one instance - hacky-sacking a rather displeased pet) and an equally odd cameo from Mariah Carey. The jokes work more often than I'd expected, but the plot's a bit of a mess - at nearly two hours, the movie feels excessive and could have lost a good twenty minutes to tighten the pace.
However, I thought the film's funniest bits were some of its more oddball ones (as well as some of the minor, throwaway ones), such as a running joke regarding how hummus can be used for just about anything. While I have to admit I didn't think there could be one workable hummus joke, the movie manages several that got a laugh. On the other hand, some of the movie's gags, such as Zohan's desire to sleep with seemingly as many older women as possible, quickly become tired. The movie's finale, which tries to create peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, could have been better, but at least it seemed genuine and well-meaning.
The performances are pretty enjoyable, as Sandler tries harder than he has in some of this other recent films to make the gags work. Tuturro also gets some good laughs, as he manages to hit the film's over-the-top tone without turning it into slapstick. Sandler's friends (John McEnroe, Chris Rock, Kevin Nealon, Kevin James and others) turn up in cameos. The only performance that doesn't quite work (well, aside from Rob Schneider's, although that's a given) is Chriqui's - it's not because she's not a capable actress, it's simply that she's stuck with a rather thankless role and is the only character in a movie full of over-the-top ones that has to play it straight.
Overall, "Zohan" is a mess of different subplots and the jokes sometimes feel like generic bathroom humor. However, the movie manages to walk the balance between over-the-top humor and falling into slapstick well. The performances are mostly funny and some of the movie's gags (especially some of the minor ones) get a surprisingly decent chuckle. This still isn't Sandler's funniest film, but I'd have to say it's certainly an improvement over "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry".
The Blu-Ray edition contains both the theatrical version of the film and the unrated version, which runs a few minutes (117 vs. 113) longer than the theatrical.
VIDEO: "You Don't Mess With the Zohan" is presented in 1.85:1 (1080p/AVC). The results are mostly quite good, as the picture almost always looked crisp and well-defined, with fine details (hairs, signs, etc.) often appearing clearly visible. A few dimly-lit scenes looked a tad fuzzy, but most of the movie appeared pleasantly sharp and smooth. While some light grain was seen in a few scenes, the grain was minor and gave the presentation a nice, "film-like" appearance. No instances of pixelation or print flaws were noticed, but a couple of minor instances of edge enhancement were spotted. Colors generally remained natural, although some scenes offered brighter, warmer tones. Flesh tones looked accurate, and black level generally appeared adequate. Overall, this wasn't an outstanding presentation, but it remained solid. Indonesian/Bahasa, Korean, Thai, Chinese, French, English & English SDH subtitles are offered.
SOUND: "You Don't Mess With the Zohan" is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. While the film's "comedy mix" generally won't provide any surprises, the material does allow for a few uses of the surrounds for effects and some reinforcement of the tunes in a handful of scenes. Audio quality was just fine, with crisp dialogue. This certainly isn't going to be the title anyone reaches for to demo their system, but the audio is a bit more enveloping than one would expect from a Sandler flick.
EXTRAS: There are two commentaries included: one with director Dennis Dugan and the other with actor/writer/producer Adam Sandler, writer Robert Smigel and actors Rob Schneider and Nick Swardson. The former struggles to fill the running time, but manages to offer a few jokes, a few stories and a few insights. The other commentary track is somewhat better, as the group pokes fun at a few scenes and jokes about some stories from the set. There are still some stretches of silence here and not too much in the way of production insights, but at least it remained moderately entertaining.
We also get a series of featurettes: “Look Who Stopped By”, “Dugan: The Hands-On Director”, “The Stunts of Zohan, “Dugan Espanol?”, “Zohan Vs. the Phantom”, “Shooting Baja for Tel Aviv”, “All-American Redneck”, “From Guns to Scissors”, “The Robot” and “Laughing Is Contagious”. All of these are fairly short (and often quite goofy) behind-the-scenes looks at various aspects of the film. We also get 15 deleted scenes (if the movie wasn't already overlong, I thought some of these could have worked in the movie - either way, there are some funny bits within) and promos for other Sony titles. The only extra that is Blu-Ray exclusive (aside from BD-Live capability) is "Translating the Zohan", a graphics-in-picture track. The video supplements are in HD.
Final Thoughts: My expectations were admittedly low, but "You Don't Mess With the Zohan" is a wacky, occasionally weird and sometimes pretty funny movie from Adam Sandler. It's certainly not without its flaws, but the movie does manage a few pretty good laughs and a pleasing amount of minor ones. The Blu-Ray boasts solid image quality, fine audio and a nice helping of supplements. A recommended rental.
The Film C+