he way comedian Adam Sandler sees it, there’s only one person who can bring peace to the Middle East.
That honor goes to…Mariah Carey. But only if she’s in a really skin-tight dress singing, of all things, “The Star Spangled Banner.” It seems that Israelis and Palestinians can easily dismiss hundreds of years of hatred for each other as they admire her, um, lung power.
This little nugget of nonsense is just one of many whacked-out observations Sandler brings to the big screen in “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” an over-padded comedy that could’ve easily hatched from a “Saturday Night Live” sketch – one that Lorne Michaels wouldn’t give the green light to.
But that’s not going to stop a box office draw like Sandler (“I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry”) from stretching the thimble-sized idea out for two hours, especially when he can easily fill up the time with jokes about overstuffed crotches and racial stereotypes, and with B-list actors willing to do anything for a paycheck (just ask Henry Winkler, who caps his three-decade acting career by tossing his cookies on camera).
As usual, Sandler, the perennial “kid next door that ain’t quite right,” brings some boyish charm to Zohan, a bullet-chomping, ass-kicking, Jeri-curl sporting Mossad super-soldier that’s Israel’s answer to Jack Bauer.
But although Zohan is famous in the Land of Milk and Honey for playing ping pong with grenades as he fries up gefilte fish, he has a secret – he wants to put all of the violence behind him and live his dream of becoming a hair stylist.
Fearing that he’d be called a faygelah if he so much as whispers his dream about saving the world from split ends, he uses yet another attempt to capture his Palestinian nemesis, the Phantom (a fiendishly fun John Turturro) to fake his own death and go to the U.S.
While there are laughs galore at the beginning – especially as Sandler busts some heads while trying to discuss theology and politics with Palestinian terrorists – these guffaws turn into light chuckles when he lands in New York and splits his time between cutting hair and impressing senior citizens with his overstuffed ego, which he apparently keeps in his pants.
Things spark up again when the Phantom returns for a rematch and Zohan tries to romance his boss (the vivacious, wide-eyed Emmanuelle Chriqui, “Entourage”) but even that gets bogged down in Sandler’s message that Israelis and Palestinians can get along as long as they have a common enemy to fight, like a land baron who wants to turn their beloved Gaza strip of electronic stores and Persian rug outlets into a mall that looks frighteningly like the Coney Island of the future.
In the end it becomes a convoluted mess that even the best of Sandler’s “SNL” brethren (Chris Rock and Kevin Nealon both play small roles, as does Rob Schneider, who by this point owes whatever’s left of his muddled career to Sandler) can’t rescue the viewer from.
But, hey, you want peace in the Middle East, you have to start somewhere.
Starring Adam Sandler and John Turturro. Directed by Dennis Dugan. Running time: 113 minutes. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, language and nudity.