It’s a well-known and easily proven fact that light entertainment has the ability to affect social and cultural change on a global level. Look what happened when David Hasselhoff stood astride the crumbling Berlin Wall – within a matter of years the Cold War had ended and Hollywood has to rethink its bad-guy policy. So we shouldn’t be too dismissive of Adam Sandler for trying to grasp the Middle East crisis nettle, as he may very well yet be the catalyst for salvation.

In this humble opus, Sandler plays a deadly Israeli Mossad agent, a one-man fighting, sexing, disco machine who yearns for the conflict to come to an end (“It’s been 2000 years, I can’t imagine it’ll be too much longer”, claims his mum) so he can fulfil his destiny – to become a hair stylist in America. A standoff with his greatest rival, Palestinian assassin the Phantom (Tuturro), offers him a chance to fake his death and start a new life in New York.

Starting at the bottom at a neighbourhood salon (run by a Palestinian, natch), his cuts-plus-happy-finish approach to styling wins him the hearts of the local elderly members of the community, and bringing him unwanted attention from those who threaten to blow his cover.

With mainstream comedy shaped by the sharper Borats and more frat-driven Seth Rogans, Sandler comedies now feel a little redundant, which may explain the more out-there, high-concept thrust of Zohan, hopefully to give Sandler more of a contemporary edge.

But lacking the smarts of Ben Stiller’s guffaw-fests, his flicks feel a more clumsier proposition. That’s definitely the case here – while there’s plenty of scope in the premise for some glorious Team America wrongness, it shies away from it and buries its potential under hackneyed plot devices and clichés – yada yada, nasty landlords trying to shut down the humble salon, blah blah obligatory unrequited love interest.

Diverting for too long into one subplot too many and a weak Deuce Bigalow-type riff, it loses sight of where it’s going, only sharpening up when it does actually fool around with the whole Israeli-Palestinian thing. But even then the laughs are more wry chuckles rather than the big-bellied ones you’d expect from this kind of fare.

Verdict

Feeling like two half-arsed films in one and screaming for some better gags, this is one you can really take or leave. Short on the satire needed to justify the central theme and with a half-baked take on the situation, one can only assume that Sandler’s invitation to the UN isn’t going to be forthcoming.

Starring: Adam Sandler, John Turturro
Directed by: Dennis Dugan
Extras: deleted scenes, featurettes, commentaries (standard disc)

Sections TV