The Hebrew Hammer Movie Review

It's the curse of the great-pitch movie: They can never live up to the premise. And the funny but sloppy The Hebrew Hammer has a premise to kill for. Mordechai Jefferson Carver (Adam Goldberg) is the hero of the title, a badass Orthodox Jew who makes a slight living as a private eye (his door reads "Certified Circumcised Dick") and prowls the streets of Gotham, striking fear into the hearts of anti-Semites and admonishing the kids to "stay Jewish." He rolls like Superfly in an extra-long Cadillac, fully pimped-out, but always observes the Sabbath and loves his mother, of course.

Every superhero needs a supervillain, of course, and this film's answer to that maxim is Andy Dick. Apparently psychotic from birth, Dick plays Damian, the racist son of Santa who kills his more tolerant father and sets about turning the North Pole into a sweatshop, banishing the non-Aryan elves and concocting a diabolical plan to destroy Hanukkah. Not surprisingly, this causes the Jewish Justice League (who hold court in a massive, Star of David-shaped building) no small amount of consternation, and they start casting about for a Jewish hero to fight Damian. Quickly discarding suggestions of Steven Spielberg and Yitzhak Perlman, they reluctantly settle on the Hammer, whom they'd drummed out of the organization long before.

Once The Hammer has been assigned his female sidekick, Esther Bloomenbergansteinthal (Judy Greer) and hooked up with his with old buddy Mohammed (Mario Van Peebles), the head of the Kwanzaa Liberation Front, the film becomes even more like a series of sketch comedy routines barely connected by a single driving impulse. In its individual set pieces, the film can be quite effective, even discovering a hitherto-unknown gleam of Mel Brooksian-slapstick talent in Peter Coyote, who plays Esther's father, the eyepatch-wearing, eternally noshing head of the J.J.L.

Writer/director Jonathan Kesselman tries to put together a Dr. Evil-like piece of ludicrous villainy for the big rousing climax, but he's most effective when tossing Jewish-themed satiric barbs out like a Gen-X Jackie Mason. One of the best of these is the scene when Coyote barks an order at the head of the Worldwide Jewish Media Conspiracy, telling him to "crank out some more award-winning Holocaust documentaries... and maybe another Adam Sandler picture" in order to combat Damian's assault on Hanukkah. Unfortunately, staler jokes abound, including some achingly unfunny, over-the-top scenes with the Hammer's mother (a screechy Nora Dunn).

There are times when The Hebrew Hammer plays like a lower (much, much lower) budgeted, Jewish version of Malcolm Lee's funnier Undercover Brother. But instead of following that film's comic book style, Kesselman opts for the faux-seventies exploitation approach; even having Sweet Sweetback himself, Melvin Van Peebles, show up as himself in a walk-by cameo. Ultimately, it's more like post-Airplane! that Zucker satires than anything else, redeemed mostly by the occasional zinger and the strength of its cast. Goldberg (Dazed and Confused) plays to his strengths, becoming possibly the most neurotic action hero of all time ("That's a lot of pressure for one Jew; I mean, I'm shvitzing over here"), and Dick is his usual self: a coked-up nervy perv you wouldn't let within 500 yards of your family... or anybody's else's.

The DVD includes the original short film the movie was based on, deleted scenes, and -- as you'd expect from a Comedy Central production -- a gag reel.

Let's nail.


Comments

The Hebrew Hammer Rating

" Weak "

Rating: NR, 2003

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