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I am not one for films laced with crude humour as a rule, but for every rule there is an exception or two. For many viewers, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan is about the action, the jokes and the lewdness, for me I see the message in Adam Sandler’s movie.
Zohan Dvir is an Israeli counterterrorist agent living in Israel who spends his spare times partying with his friends on the beach. He is not a happy man, though. He is tired of the hate and the violence and being a soldier. He wants to be a hairdresser but his parents nix the idea every time he raises it at dinner. Then, as luck would have it, the opportunity to change his life presents itself. During a mission he fakes his own death at the hands of his Palestinian nemesis, “The Phantom”, Fatoush Hakbarah. Ever the resourceful one, he smuggles himself on a plane bound for NYC, taking the names of two dogs in cargo, styling his hair and carrying his prized possession – an out-of-date Paul Mitchell hairdressing book.
Now, as Scrappy Coco, through another lucky break he finds himself asked to stay by Michael and his cougar mother Gail, who are also Jews. They live on a street shared by both Jewish and Palestinian residents and businesses. Being an admirer of older women, he begins an affair with Gail. He meets Oori, another Israeli who owns an electronics store forever going out of business, who recognises him as “The Zohan” but agrees to keep Zohan’s identity secret. Looking for work, he lands at the struggling salon of the young Palestinian, Dalia, and is given a job sweeping. When one of her staff quits, he is allowed to cut an elderly woman’s hair. He gives her the only style he knows, his own, plus extra “services” in the back of the store. Zohan and his talents are a hit with the older female clientele, which brings in the money for Dalia.
Meanwhile, a local Palestinian cabbie, Salim, recognises Zohan, because Zohan once took his goat, and contacts “The Phantom”, now a successful owner of a chain of cafés. They blackmail him into coming to NYC, saying they will destroy his reputation for killing “The Zohan”.
Suddenly, Zohan loses his non-hairdressing talent and is perplexed. Then, after talking with Gail and revealing he is Zohan, he admits to himself that he loves Dalia and must tell her who he really is. He goes to her talking marriage, children and a joint salon. Dalia tells him, that she too, ran away from the hate and the violence and her family but she refuses him, not because he is Israeli, but because of what he was in Israel.
Dejected, he goes to the hacky-sack game being sponsored by Grant Walbridge, Dalia’s landlord and the landlord of most of the businesses on the street. Unbeknownst to them all, he is their real enemy, for he wants to evict all of them, demolish the street and construct an expensive mall. He confronts “The Phantom” in Mariah Carey’s dressing room but is called away by Michael, who is on the neighbourhood watch. Men dressed as Arabs and Jews are setting fire to the local businesses. Zohan saves the store with hummus (hummus and a fizzy orange drink are two running jokes throughout the film, everyone from the Middle East is made fun of and stereotyped).
“The Phantom” then arrives to fight “The Zohan” and Dalai arrives to stop it, for she is “The Phantom’s” younger sister. She admits she loves Zohan to the gathered crowd, Zohan and her brother; she then tells her brother to cooperate with Zohan. They have realised that if they, Jews and Palestinians, are all gathered on the street, then it is not they burning down shops. It is men hired by their real enemy. They all admit that they all ran away from the hate and the violence; they admit that they all even look alike, like the same things and want the same things. This is the crux of the film; this is the serious message. They are all just people, neighbours, trying to make a decent living in peace, just as they were back home. Zohan and Phantom, who really wanted to have a shoe shop but his parents disapproved, join forces to defeat Walbridge and his lackeys.
The film ends a few months later with a new mall built on the street. Salim has his goat back. Phantom has his shoe shop. Oori has a new electronics store. Zohan and his wife Dalia have their salon, where Michael now works as a hairdresser. One day, Zohan’s parents arrive to meet their daughter-in-law and give their approval to their son. Everyone is together, living and working in peace. Hope has been made concrete.