Hebrew Hammer, The

Reviewed By Scott Weinberg
Posted 01/28/03 11:48:00

"Jew Comedy Lesson #1: Adam Goldberg is Funny; Adam Sandler is Not"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Hoo boy was I schpilkas to see this one. See, I am a Jew - and one who loves to poke a little fun at his own religion. What's more, I'm a Jew who considers Adam Goldberg one of the coolest and most obscenely overlooked "Oh, I know that guy..." actors on the whole round planet. So maybe I was more than a little sold before the movie even began, but here's the straight schmear:

This is a damn funny movie.

Did my mental checklist rattle through a half-dozen minor gripes about the movie is a whole? Sure, but first-time directors (as Jonathan Kesselman is) certainly get away with much worse and still earn all sorts of praise. The plot narrative derails more than once as the flick starts to wrap things up, there are a few jarring moments of editorial confusion, and a few of the gags even manage to THUD with alarming resolve. (The movie is at its best as a satire and its worst as a spoof.)

But with those honest complaints out of the way...

As I stated earlier, The Hebrew Hammer is plain old funny. Those unfamiliar with the myriad staples of Jewish cliche and stereotype may be in over their heads, but for the most part I'd say the humor here could connect with a broad audience. Much like last year's Undercover Brother, The Hebrew Hammer will make most audiences laugh, though those within the hero's demographic will find the most to enjoy.

Goldberg plays Mordecai Jefferson Carver, New York's toughest 'certified circumcised dick' and all-around cool Jew. Morty preaches confidence to young Hebrews, treats his secretary with respect, and dotes on his shrill-yet-lovable mother. (Some of the flick's best moments come during The Hammer's extended character intro.)

When Santa Claus' evil son offs the jolly fat man and sets his sights on the destruction of Chanukah, Mordecai (aka The Hebrew Hammer) is recruited by the Jewish Justice League to save the eight holy nights. (Cooler in concept than in execution, how Santa Jr. plans to actually destroy said holiday is kind of ridiculous; it has something to do with a giant menorah and some sort of "Jew Fuel".)

One of the biggest joys here is the conversion of Adam Goldberg (whom you most likely know from his supporting roles in A Beautiful Mind and Saving Private Ryan, though fans often recall his moments from Dazed and Confused, Higher Learning, and a criminally funny recurring bit on TV's Friends) from 'colorful backup' to 'comic action hero', and while The Hebrew Hammer may not vault the actor into leading man status, he easily carries the entire movie. Even if the film were a sloppy mess, Goldberg's shtick alone would make it worthy of your ninety minutes. Fortunately, it's not a mess (well, maybe a little) and Goldberg has some surprisingly strong support. The lovely Judy Greer (Adaptation) provides an adorable Jewess-ness and makes for the perfect foil to Goldberg's stressed-out heroics, while the manic Andy Dick (Road Trip) mines more than a few bizarre laughs from his villainous Santa schpiel. Heck, even Mario Van Peebles (Posse) gets to be funny here! When's the last time that happened? (Faring not as well is Peter Coyote's painfully silly turn as head of the JJL.)

Cousin to such action/exploitation spoofs as Undercover Brother, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, and Mystery Men (only with huge doses of Jew-centric silliness), The Hebrew Hammer certainly isn't about to smash any box-office awards - but it does three things well, and that's more than a lot of movies can say:

1. It introduces us to another new filmmaker with an eye (and a pen) for good comedy.

2. It showcases Adam Goldberg's inspired talents under a spotlight, instead of from the background.

3. It gives the movie world its first Jewish superhero.

So yeah, I ended up liking it. Big shock there. I bet most baseball players love Major League, and that's hardly high art. Plus it's not too often you get to hear someone yell 'Shabbat Shalom Motherfuckers!' before laying into some Nazis with a pair of shotguns. That's good stuff.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.