Tagline: Lather. Rinse. Save the world.
Israeli commando Zohan Dvir (Adam Sandler) – known throughout his country as The Zohan – is his country’s most famous counter-terrorist. Highly skilled, seemingly indestructible, The Zohan is equally adept with the ladies as he is with taking out his enemies, including his nemesis, the Palestinian terrorist Phantom (John Turturro).
But The Zohan has a secret… though he loves his country, he is tired of all the fighting, and he longs for an opportunity to make a break from the army and express his creativity by becoming a hairstylist. However, as long as he fights terrorism, The Zohan’s dream is impossible, leading him to cry himself to sleep at night over images from the 1987 Paul Mitchell style book he keeps hidden in his bedroom.
The Zohan gets his chance when Phantom resurfaces. Instead of taking him out, The Zohan fakes his own death and escapes, leading a delighted Phantom to believe that he has finally offed The Zohan. Stowing away on a plane to New York with only a dream and the clothes on his back, The Zohan hides out in a cargo container with two dogs, Scrappy and Coco.
The Zohan’s first stop is the Paul Mitchell salon, where he takes on his cover identity: “Scrappy Coco.” “Scrappy” expects to be hired but is mocked for his outdated ways. However, The Zohan is not to be stopped in his quest to make the world silky smooth. After defending the meek Michael (Nick Swardson) following a traffic accident, The Zohan finds a place to stay – upstairs from Michael and his mother, Gail (Lainie Kazan), in their Brooklyn apartment.
The idea for Zohan, a kick-ass Israeli soldier who gives up the counter-terrorism game in order to pursue his dream of being a hairdresser, first came to Adam Sandler many years ago, and he immediately saw the best way to develop the character into a screenplay. He would work with two good friends: his fellow “Saturday Night Live” alumnus (and original head writer for Conan O’Brien and creator of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and “TV Funhouse”) Robert Smigel, and his onetime roommate (and now comedy heavyweight) Judd Apatow.
You Don’t Mess with the Zohan represents familiar ground for the writers. “My interest in writing about Israelis started at ‘Saturday Night Live,’” says Smigel, who was a sketch writer on the show for a number of years. “Oddly enough, the very first sketch that Adam was ever in was ‘The Sabra Shopping Network,’ a sketch I wrote about Israelis.”
You Don’t Mess with the Zohan also represents a return to Sandler’s roots – playing an outlandish, wild, broadly drawn character, as he did both on “SNL” and early in his film career. “Adam’s audience has gotten used to seeing him play characters closer to himself,” adds Smigel. “But even though Zohan can do no-arm pushups, he’s still goofy and vulnerable like Adam.”
According to director Dennis Dugan, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan pits The Zohan against an equally large and imposing opposite, who happens to be a terrorist: The Phantom, played by John Turturro. “Ali and Frazier, the Celtics and the Lakers, the Yankees and Boston, The Zohan and Phantom,” says Dugan. “It’s the fiercest rivalry.”
Though its basis is one of the most vexing problems on the world stage, the filmmakers’ primary goal was to bring the comedy. Still, Rob Schneider, a near-and-dear member of the Happy Madison family who joins the cast as Salim, a Palestinian cab driver, says that it’s possible that comedy is the only way to approach an unapproachable problem. “Comedy brings people together,” he says. “The Zohan is ridiculous – so ridiculous that, I hope, everybody takes a step back and laughs together.”
The film also features a host of hilarious cameos from friends old and new. Dave Matthews – of his eponymous band – and Kevin James reunite with Sandler after taking on cameo and starring roles, respectively, in I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry. Michael Buffer, the “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble” announcer, takes on a featured role in the film. And Mariah Carey, the best-selling female artist of all time, who earlier this year made history with the most #1 singles by a solo artist, appears as herself (and the idol of both Israeli and Arab fans). Carey’s song “I’ll Be Lovin’ U Long Time,” the third single from her album “E=MC2,” is also featured in the film.
But the cameos don’t stop there. Among other surprises, the film also features Kevin Nealon, John McEnroe, Charlotte Rae, who was Mrs. Garrett on ‘The Facts of Life,’ and Academy president Sid Ganis. “We may not get any Oscar nominations now, only because Sid has to appear neutral,” says Smigel.
Melding the serious and the ridiculous is director Dennis Dugan, who has previously helmed the Sandler hits Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy, and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, as well as the Happy Madison project The Benchwarmers, in addition to many other films and television programs.
“My job is to tee up the ball so that Sandler can smack it,” Dugan says. “We have a similar sensibility. I try to get his vision for the film and I work with all the departments to figure out the best way to facilitate it. Now that we’ve done five movies together, I know what he wants; it’s easier to know than to try to predict.”
“When I was 12, I didn’t have half as much energy as Dennis Dugan has now,” Smigel says. “He’s unbelievable. He shared a secret with me that it’s deliberate – he knows that if he drags, everyone.”
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You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (2008)
Directed by: Dennis Dugan
Starring: Adam Sandler, Alex Luria, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Lainie Kazan, Rob Schneider, Sayed Badreya, Shelley Berman, Mariah Carey, Charlotte Rae, Nick Swardson, Dina Doron
Screenplay by: Adam Sandler, Judd Apatow, Robert Smigel
Production Design by: Perry Andelin Blake
Cihematography by: Michael Barrett
Film Editing by: Tom Costain
Costume Design by: Ellen Lutter
Set Decoration by: Ronald R. Reiss
Art Direction by: Alan Au, John Collins
Music by: Rupert Gregson-Williams
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language, nudity.
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Release Date: June 6, 2008