Can Sandler's 'Zohan' save the Middle East? - Joel Hall

Every once in awhile, a striking documentary will come out in select theaters about the long-raging conflict between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East.

Adam Sandler's new film, "Don't Mess with the Zohan" does what few comedy films have done, and suggests that the problems in the Middle East can be settled over a little humus, hacky sack, and fizzy, orange, carbonated beverages.

Zohan, played by Sandler, is an Israeli counter-terrorist trained extensively in the art of combat. However, he grows tired of the constant game of whack-a-mole, which is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Historically, when an Israeli solider is captured by enemy forces, it causes nationwide concern more so than in other countries. To retrieve its sons and daughters from the enemy, Israel will sometimes give up huge military gains, often trading captured Palestinian militants in exchange for their soldiers.

In the beginning of the movie, Zohan is plucked from his vacation to recapture a Palestinian terrorist known as "The Phantom," (played by John Turturro) who has just been released as part of one such exchange.

Zohan, who has grown tired of fighting, wishes only to fulfill his lifelong dream of cutting and styling hair. In his ensuing battle with The Phantom, Zohan fakes his own death and sneaks on a cargo plane to New York City to find his calling.

While enjoyable and amusing, the film does have its flaws from the very beginning. The movie is rife with Middle-Eastern stereotypes which play on Westerns' misunderstanding and fears of the Middle East.

For one, everybody in the movie gorges themselves on humus, using it for everything from toothpaste, to shampoo, to coffee creamer. At one point in the movie, humus is used to put out a shop fire.

There is also a funny commercial for a McDonald's-style halal restaurant called "Phantom Muchentuchen," in which the closing caption says "America is Satan." The main action in the movie is ignited by a Palestinian taxicab driver who seeks revenge against Zohan over a 20-year grudge about a goat.

However, the movie is effective in drawing similarities between the Israeli and Palestinian people.

After coming to New York and finding little success landing a job at the larger beauty salons, Zohan stumbles into a historically Israeli and Palestinian neighborhood. It is there he meets Dalia (played by Emmanuelle Chriqui), a beautiful Palestinian who owns a small hair salon under pressure by a greedy landlord seeking to force out the local tenants, and build a mall on top of their historic neighborhood.

After Zohan saves her business, Dalia invites Zohan to a picnic in a local park. The two are united by an Orangina-resembling, heterogeneous mixture known as "Fizzy Bubble," which everybody in the movie, Palestinian or Israel, seems to enjoy.

In the movie, it is also revealed that Middle Easterners share many of the same national pastimes, such as hacky sack and disco dancing. While the local real estate magnate attempts to turn the Palestinians and Israelis against each other, they eventually come together to save their neighborhood.

The things which save the day are singing and humus, of course.

While the movie runs the risk of oversimplifying the Mideast conflict, it does a good job of revealing that Palestinians and Israelis aren't as different as they may be led to believe. Maybe, there is hope for peace in the Middle East after all.

Joel Hall covers government and psolitics for the Clayton News Daily. He can reached via e-mail at jhall@news-daily.com.