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You Don't Mess with the Zohan is a 2008 comedy film starring Adam Sandler. The film is about Zohan Dvir (Hebrew: זוהן דביר), an Israelimarker counter terrorist army commando who fakes his own death in order to pursue his dream of becoming a hairstylist in New York Citymarker. The story was written by Sandler, Judd Apatow, and Robert Smigel. Sandler's production company, Happy Madison Productions, produced the film, and it was distributed by Columbia Pictures. It was released on June 6, 2008 and in the UK on August 15, 2008.


Zohan Dvir (Adam Sandler), is the finest and most respected soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. He wants to be a hairdresser rather than a soldier and so fakes his own death during the pursuit of a Palestinian terrorist named "Phantom" (John Turturro). Zohan smuggles himself into a flight to New York City and takes the alias "Scrappy Coco" (the names of two dogs he shared the flight with) and claims that he is "Half Australian, Half Mt. Everest".

Initially unsuccessful in getting hired at several salons, Zohan's military expertise earns him a new friend, Michael (Nick Swardson), who gives him a place to stay. Zohan encounters a fellow Israeli named Oori (Ido Mosseri) at a disco; Oori recognises him but agrees to keep his identity a secret. Oori takes him to a block in lower Manhattan filled with Middle Eastern Americans, who are split between a Palestinian side and an Israeli side of the street.

Zohan attempts to land a job in a struggling salon of a Palestinian woman named Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui). After first only allowing Zohan to sweep floors for free, she eventually allows him to be a stylist after he pleases a senior lady with a satisfactory haircut and back room sexual service. Zohan's reputation spreads instantly among the elder women of lower Manhattan. Dalia's buisness booms, upsetting Grant Walbridge (Michael Buffer), a corporate magnate who has been trying to force out all the local tenants on the block so that he may build a mall. Zohan is identified by a Palestinian cab driver named Salim (Rob Schneider), who convinces his friends to help him kill Zohan. After a failed bomb attempt, Salim contacts Phantom who then pays a visit to New York to find Zohan. Meanwhile, Zohan realizes that he has fallen in love with Dalia, but Dalia rejects Zohan's feelings for her after he reveals he was formerly an Israeli counter-terrorist operative. Zohan decides to leave Dalia and confront the Phantom in a championship Hacky Sack game sponsored by Walbridge. His fight is cut short with sudden news of the Middle Eastern block being attacked.

Zohan arrives and calms the Israelis and Palestinians, who each blame the other for the violence. The Phantom then appears and confronts Zohan, but he refuses to fight and eventually convinces the Phantom to cooperate with him against the arsonists. As Zohan and Phantom work to save the block, Dalia appears, revealing that she is the Phantom's sister. Zohan's personal dossier technology allows him to discover the arsonists' true identities as white racist rednecks hired by Walbridge to instigate an inter-ethnic riot between the Israelis and Palestinians and allow him to take over their stores. Zohan and Phantom lead the united Israelis and Palestinians of the block to save their shops, defeating the rednecks, thwarting Walbridge's plans, but damaging all of the shops on the block including Dalia's salon. With the Israelis and the Palestinians united, the block is transformed into a collectively-owned mall called the Peace and Brotherhood Fire Insurance Mall, in which Phantom opens a shoe store and Zohan and Dalia open a joint beauty parlor.



Filming of one of the scenes while in Mexico
Sandler, Smigel, and Apatow wrote the first draft of the script in 2000, but the movie was put on hold after the events of 9/11 because those involved felt that the subject would be too sensitive. During an interview, Smigel indicated that Apatow left the project after the first draft in 2000 to work on his show Undeclared and that he has, for the most part, not been involved in the project since.

The movie features elements that first appeared in the SNL sketches "Sabra Shopping Network" and "Sabra Price is Right", which starred Tom Hanks and were written by Robert Smigel. They originated lines such as 'Sony guts' and 'Disco, Disco, good, good'. The first is also notable for featuring one of Adam Sandler's first (uncredited) television appearances while the second featured Sandler, Schneider, Smigel and Kevin Nealon in supporting parts.

Robert Smigel worked with Sandler on past films including Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, Little Nicky, and more, but this is the first time in which he has been credited for helping to write the script. He was also an executive producer on the film which allowed him to further contribute to the movie's comedic sense.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz commented that the movie was known in Hollywood circles as the "Israeli movie." Haaretz also noted that while "Israeli actors were rushing to audition [for the movie], the response among Arab actors was far from enthusiastic (Emmanuelle Chriqui, who plays Zohan's Palestinian love interest, was born and raised an Orthodox Jew). One possible explanation is that Sandler, who is known as a patron of causes for Israel, is not so popular in the Arab world." Arab actor Sayed Badreya was quoted as saying that "Adam Sandler, in the Arab and Muslim communities, is not having a good reputation". But Sayed then noted that "When it came to working with Adam, I was like, 'Eh, well, I don't know.' My prejudice was bigger than me".

Cultural context

Scattered amid the more puerile humor of the film are some "good and unexpectedly sophisticated jokes" revolving around Israel-Arab conflicts in the Middle East, according to critic John Podhoretz. One joke involves the frequent trading of prisoners from Israel with prisoners held by Arab states or groups, another is about preparations for future fighting even as peace talks are ongoing. Some material is taken from Arab culture, including a running joke about hummus.

Many of the supposedly typical "Israeli" behaviors depicted in the movie are entirely fictional, and have no parallel in actual Israeli or Middle Eastern culture. Hacky Sack is virtually non-existent in Israel and certainly not a popular sport as depicted in the movie. "Fizzy Bubblech" may have been inspired by "Kinley" the Coca-Cola-Israel former brand name for orange-flavoured Fanta. Yiddish, often used in the movie in daily conversation and as source of product names, is rare in mainstream Israeli culture, though nowadays less common than in the 1970s or 1980's. And the name "Zohan" is not an Israeli name. The closest real name in use is: Zohar (Hebrew for "shine" or "glamour").

Sandler researched the role and took inspiration from Nezi, Shaoul and Shalom Arbib, three brothers who are former Israeli soldiers and hairstylists in Californiamarker. Nezi Arbib runs Shampoo Too in Solana Beach, Californiamarker, and Shaoul and Shalom Arbib continue to run Shampoo, the brothers' original salon in West Hollywood, Californiamarker.

According to Podhoretz, the film was the second major Hollywood studio release in three years to feature an Israeli protagonist, the other being Steven Spielberg's film Munich. Before that, the last such film was the 1960 Exodus. Israeli characters in Hollywood films, though rare, have more often been villains, including hit men in Last Embrace, a lascivious wife of an arms dealer in Internal Affairs, bodyguards for a Jewish gangster's gay son in Lucky Number Slevin, and murderous Zionist conspirators in both Eyewitness and Homicide.

The film features actors of both Arab and non-Arab descent playing Arabs. Egyptian-American comedian Ahmed Ahmed plays a bit part as a Palestinian-American, whereas Jewish-Filipino Rob Schneider plays Salim Husaamdiyaa, a Palestinian American who recognizes Zohan in New York. The movie begins with comments from Zohan dismissing his Palestinian adversaries' complaints that Israel encroached on Palestinian lands, but moves toward a conciliatory tone where Palestinian and Israeli-American characters say they do not want to fight any more.

Some of the characters in the film work for "Moishe's Moving", a real-life New York City moving company.

Numerous times throughout the film, a conversation among Israelis and Palestinians who live on Zohan's street begins with some sort of accusation against one or the other, but the animosity ends up becoming more mundane - for example, a Palestinian accuses the Israelis of spraying anti-Arab graffiti on his shop, but the argument eventually transforms into a joint discussion on their preferences regarding politicians' wives.

The movie also addresses stereotypes held by Americans regarding Middle Easterners and Arabs in particular. Zohan is mistaken for an Arab by an angry commuter, who tells him to "get back to his pretzel stand". A traditionally clad and bearded Palestinian (Bashir) complains that all Arabs have been stereotyped as terrorists, but a fellow Arab points out that even he would not get on the same plane as Nasser due to his appearance. Similarly, one of the Israelis complains to the Arabs that "people don't like us, they think we're you!"

Among other stereotypical depictions noted in the film, according to Middle Eastern Film critic AbdulRahman El-Taliawi, the 'Phantom' (John Turturro) was made to hide behind cameo star Mariah Carey in reference to constant Israeli allegations against Militant Islamist groups that they use human shields in battle.

Despite this conciliatory and humorous take on the Arab-Israeli conflict, though perhaps due in part to the film's sexual humor, the film was banned in Lebanonmarker, and the United Arab Emiratesmarker.

Besides the references to the Middle East, there are several references to the countries Zohan claims to be from - for instance, when discussing Australia, Michael's mother confuses Australia with South Africa and makes reference to its former Apartheid regime (mispronounced "Aparthide").


The score to the film was composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams. He recorded his score with the Hollywood Studio Symphony at the Sony Scoring Stage in April 2008. The soundtrack contains many songs in Hebrew, mostly by the popular Israeli band Hadag Nahash, the Psychedelic Trance duo Infected Mushroom and Dana International.

The soundtrack contains (near the end of the movie) the music from the song "Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Aaja" from the Bollywood movie Disco Dancer (1982) starring Mithun Chakraborty.


Critical reception

The film opened to mixed reviews. As of June 30, 2008, Rotten Tomatoes reports that 34% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 138 reviews—with the consensus that the film "features intermittent laughs, and will please Sandler diehards, but after a while the leaky premise wears thin." Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 54 out of 100, based on 35 reviews—indicating mixed or average reviews.

John Podhoretz, in The Weekly Standard, wrote that the movie has a "mess" of a plot and features, "as usual for Sandler, plenty of dumb humor of the sort that gives dumb humor a bad name, but that delights his 14-year-old-boy fan base". But the film also has an "unusual" amount of "tantalizing comic ideas" so that "every 10 minutes or so, it makes you explode with laughter." Entertainment Weekly gave the movie a C+ grade, calling it "another 'mess' from Sandler" which is, unlike Monty Python, a "circus that never flies".

On the positive side, TIME claimed the film to be a "laugh riot", and Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3 out of 4 stars. David Edelstein of New York Magazine went as far as to say "Adam Sandler is mesmerizing" and A.O Scott of The New York Times said it was "the finest post-Zionist action-hairdressing sex comedy I have ever seen".

Despite the mixed reception by critics, the film managed to develop a niche following of fans, and was the fourth most downloaded movie for 2008 on The Pirate Bay.

Box office

You Don't Mess with the Zohan went on to gross $38 million on its opening weekend, ranked second behind Kung Fu Panda. As of September 7, 2008, it has reached a domestic tally of $100,018,837, continuing Sandler's streak of making over $100 million at the domestic box office. The film grossed $200,740,170 worldwide.

Home media

The film was released October 7, 2008 featuring a 2-disc unrated edition, a single-disc unrated edition, a theatrical edition, a Blu-ray edition, and will be available on UMD for PSP. It sold 1,270,062 units and gathered revenue of $24,345,386 .


  1. Robert Smigel | The A.V. Club
  2. Podhoretz, elias, "Pushtak to Shove: Adam Sandler attacks the Middle East", review, The Weekly Standard, June 16, 2008, retrieved June 13, 2008
  3. Yair Raveh's International Film Blog, The “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan” glossary [1]
  4. KGTV Channel 10 news report on real-life Zohan Nezi Arbib
  5. Moishe's Moving Company homepage
  7. Review: Another 'Mess' from Sandler -
  8. Top 10 Most Pirated Movies of 2008

External links

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