Reign Over Me
Directed by Dennis Dugan

Written by Adam Sandler, Robert Smigel, Judd Apatow

Starring Adam Sandler, Emmanuelle Chriqui, John Turturro


You Don't Mess With the Zohan

Years ago, Adam Sandler made his reputation with a couple of records of parody songs about Jews, about America and about us all. He eventually parlayed that into a movie career that had its apotheosis with his brilliant performance in P.T. Anderson's "Punch Drunk Love." Sandler's own films have been much more uneven; I particularly like "Fifty First Dates," but his new film "You Don't Mess With the Zohan" is an enormous step backwards.

It's the kind of film that looks great in concept and then falls flat in the execution. Sandler is an Israeli war hero, Zohan, taking on Hezbollah and its own hero The Phantom (John Turturro, almost unrecognizable under his headscarf), but who lives only to be what he has dreamed of all his life: a hairdresser. He carries around Paul Mitchell's 1970s book of hair designs; it is his bible. The film immediately goes wrong when it has his parents call him a feigellah - a fag in Yiddish - when he tells them of his dream. He moves to New York where he can't get a job in Paul Mitchell's salon and eventually finds work at the beautiful Dalia's (Emmanuelle Dhriqui), a Palestinian-run shop on the lower East Side.

There he blossoms, because he not only cuts the hair of the elderly ladies who come in, but also shtups them in the back room as well, at no extra charge. Soon the salon has lines outside and he is the talk of the salon business. If the film had only stopped there it might have been a raunchy, witty comedy. But even back on the beach at Tel Aviv, where the film has him strip to show us his supposedly enormous sexual endowment, the film substitutes soft-core porn for wit.

Naturally, he and Dalia fall for each other, to show, no doubt, that Israelis and Palestinians can actually get together, and together, with the Phantom, they fight the real villain, a developer named Walbridge who wants to raze the building and put a new shopping mall there instead.

The film is badly directed by Dennis Dugan, who seems to have no idea of how to place his camera to record physical comedy, and then to add to the mistakes it overutilizes computer-graphic images, particularly of fights, that serve only to take the audience away from the film. "You Don't Mess With the Zohan" is, okay, I'll say it: a mess.