By STEVE PERSALL
Times Film Critic
Adam Sandler recently said he will only make comedies from now on since "serious actors are always in a bad mood."
Maybe they're ticked off that when he stars with them in such faulty dramatic vehicles as Reign Over Me and Spanglish, nobody buys tickets. Don't blame the actor; blame his fans preferring juvenile trash like You Don't Mess With the Zohan.
This movie has two terrible comedic ideas combined into a story that becomes worse. Separately they immediately offend: Sandler as a superhuman Mossad assassin hunting Palestinians, and Sandler as a flamboyant hairdresser, an outlet for leftover homophobic jokes from I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry.
Toss in the comedian's penchant for repetitive gags involving derrieres and groins, plus horny old — very old — women behaving like sex kittens and two things come to mind: Sandler has issues, and the Motion Picture Association of America messed up when this movie got a PG-13 rating.
Zohan (Sandler) is vacationing in Tel Aviv, charming beach bunnies with his bare butt and extraordinary strength, when he foils an assassination attempt by leaping tall buildings and swimming after the killers like a dolphin. These computer-generated sight gags actually are amusing but we know immediately they'll get old fast.
Back at Mossad headquarters, Zohan learns that his nemesis, the Phantom (John Turturro, who should be ashamed of himself), has been released in a prisoner swap. Zohan is disillusioned, seeking comfort by poring over his 1980s Paul Mitchell hairdo catalog. What he really wants to do with his life is make the world "silky smooth," not safer from terrorism.
Zohan adopts a 'do as a disguise and moves to Manhattan to fulfill his dream. The only salon giving him a chance is owned by Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui), a Palestinian beauty whose lease is being threatened by a corrupt developer (boxing announcer Michael Buffer, who can't act). Zohan's skills in styling and sexually satisfying aged clients may make a difference.
The Phantom will materialize again, tipped by an immigrant (Rob Schneider) with a grudge against Zohan for stealing his goat. By that time, the movie is getting ours.
Sitting through You Don't Mess With the Zohan is a chore. First for the bottom-rung production values — Sandler's salary ate up much of the budget — then for its thorough lack of ambition to be anything more than a long, smutty joke. Don't give me the line about people just wanting to be entertained sometimes. Middle East stereotypes, gay bashing and age ridicule pander to the worst aspects of human nature.
Sandler should reconsider his acting tack. Seriously.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his Reeling in the Years blog at blogs.