x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

You do mess with the Zohan

A controversial comedy about an ex-Mossad agent that mocks Palestinians is expected to be released in the UAE.

Adam Sandler (right) plays a former Israeli secret agent turned hairdresser in the comedy, You Don't Mess with the Zohan.
Adam Sandler (right) plays a former Israeli secret agent turned hairdresser in the comedy, You Don't Mess with the Zohan.

DUBAI // A comedic feature film that depicts Israelis and Palestinians in conflict at a hairdressers is likely to be released in the UAE, albeit with several cuts. You Don't Mess with the Zohan is the latest film to star the comedian Adam Sandler. He plays a former agent with Mossad, the Israeli secret service, who moves to New York to become a hairdresser. While there, he wages a running battle with a Palestinian, although the two eventually unite to fight a common cause.

The film was recently viewed by staff at the censors' office in Dubai and is expected to be approved for release in the coming weeks, with a handful of cuts that the censors demanded. The cuts are likely to be made to scenes of a sexual nature, and not to scenes that are designed to poke fun at Arabs. Juma Alleem, the director of censorship in Dubai, said the suggested cuts had been sent to the National Media Council in Abu Dhabi for approval.

"They are still discussing it," said Mr Alleem. "If they say the changes are OK, it will be released. There are some scenes of a sexual nature, and the language in it is a problem. "There is too much sexual language in both English and Arabic." Mr Alleem said the depiction of Arabs in the film was "not a problem at all", and that there was a strong chance the film would be released in some form in the UAE.

Sandler, the star of The Wedding Singer and Happy Gilmore, plays Zohan, a Mossad agent living in Tel Aviv who is tracking a Palestinian named The Phantom. After leaving the service to work in Brooklyn as a hairdresser, he is identified by a Palestinian taxi driver, played by the comedian Rob Schneider, who builds a bomb to kill Zohan. He and other Palestinians call a "Hizbollah hotline" to find out how to make a bomb, only to get through to a recorded message saying no instructions on how to make bombs are available until the end of the latest round of peace talks.

Zohan also falls in love with a Palestinian woman while in New York, and lives on a street divided between Israelis and Palestinians. However, the two sides unite to defeat a common enemy and end up living in harmony. The film received some praise when it was released in the United States last month. However, it was largely savaged by critics, with the Los Angeles Times saying: "As a cutting comedic satire about the Arab-Israeli conflict and stereotypes, it misses more than it hits."

In an interview with The New York Times, Sayed Badreya, an Egyptian actor who has a role in the film, said the movie mocked Arabs slightly more than it did Israelis. "The jokes are not 50-50," he said. "It's 70-30, which is great. We haven't had 30 for a long time. We've been getting zero, so it's good." Last year, West Bank Story, a musical comedy about the rivalry between Israeli and Palestinian falafel stand owners that won the Best Short Film at the Academy Awards, received a limited, uncut release in the UAE.