You Don't Mess With the Zohan

This farce was written by Judd Apatow ("Knocked Up" and "The 40- Year-Old Virgin"), Adam Sandler ("Reign Over Me" and "50 First Dates") and Robert Smigel (a Saturday Night Live writer), all three specialists in crass humor, so the theater was packed with their fans... and they weren't disappointed! This is absurd comedy from the get-go. You are first treated to lots of full-backtal (as opposed to full-frontal) nudity with Sandler's obviously newly buffed body which, later on, is augmented with an outrageous codpiece! His character, the eponymous Zohan, is a Mossad agent, weary of the constant warfare and destruction that is the standard order of the day in the Mideast. He wants nothing more than to become a hairdresser. In fact, he has a cherished Paul Mitchell book of hairstyles which is like pornography for him, he retreats to the privacy of his bedroom to daydream over it.

His parents think he should remain a Mossad agent ("It's steady work!"). In fact, his father, played by Shelley Berman (YES! THAT Shelley Berman for you folks familiar with 50s television!), is incredulous and assumes that if his son wants to be a hairstylist, he must be gay. Zohan's mother tries to reassure him that things will soon be better, "This war has been going on for 2000 years, how much longer can it be?"

Forced to confront a Palestinian hero, "Phantom," played by John Turturro ("O, Brother Where Art Thou?" and "Margot at the Wedding"), he dodges missiles, catches bullets with his nose and plays tennis with a live grenade (Did I say this is an absurdist comedy?). This battle allows him to fake his own death so he can slip out of Israel and migrate to the United States, where his first cab driver is an uncredited Chris Rock ("Lethal Weapon" and "Nurse Betty"). His lusty landlady is one of my favorite character actresses, the zaftig Lainie Kazan ("Beaches" and "My Favorite Year" plus LOTS of television).

To his dismay, the Paul Mitchell Hair Salon will have nothing to do with him, so he briefly becomes a limo driver for Henry Winkler (The Fonz in "Happy Days" and LOTS of television work) who is his petrified client. Eventually he becomes a sweeper in a small salon run by a beautiful young Palestinian woman, played by Emmanuelle Chriqui, who is drop dead gorgeous! He soon becomes their star stylist ("...with benefits") for a horny mob of elderly women.

An evil developer wants to raze the block where many small businesses are thriving: the hair salon, an electronics store, the perennial "going-out-of-business" outlet. This local New York City neighborhood is com- prised mostly of Israelis and Palestinians, so he hires thugs to vandalize shops and blame "the enemy" (remember, this is a 2000-year-old war!).

My main problem was making out what they were saying. Most either had or used a Mid-eastern accent (and I don't mean Illinois!). I was happy to see Sandler skipped his usual temper tantrums. I find them tedious. As to the absurdities, I had already suspended disbelief, so had a much better time than I expected. Just remember, this is Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow, so it's really, really crass!