[box cover]

The Hebrew Hammer

If Richard Roundtree's bad-ass private detective John Shaft and Jon Lovitz's meshugge SNL holiday helper Hanukkah Harry got drunk on Manischewitz, hooked up underneath some kosher mistletoe, and had a baby, chances are he'd turn out a lot like the Hebrew Hammer. The radical, leather-and-yarmulke-clad "certified circumcised dick" (played by Adam Goldberg) is the self-appointed guardian of all things Jewish in writer-director Jonathan Kesselman's uneven 2003 "Jewsploitation" comedy. Who else but the Hammer (otherwise known as Mordechai Jefferson Carver) can help the Jewish Justice League stop Santa's evil son, Damian Claus (Andy Dick), from obliterating Hanukkah? No one; that's who — can you dig it? With the help of plucky, marriage-minded Esther Bloomenbergansteinthal (Judy Greer) and afro-topped Kwanzaa Liberation Federation chief Mohammed Ali Paula Abdul Rahiem (Mario Van Peebles), Mordechai has to overcome his mother's guilt and his own feelings of inadequacy to stop Damian and his henchman Tiny Tim (Sean Whalen) from snuffing the menorah once and for all. Subtle? Not so much. Funny? In spots. The Hebrew Hammer definitely has its moments; some of the bickering between Damian and Tiny Tim is laugh-out-loud funny, and the sequence in which Damian tries to get little Jewish boys and girls hooked on bootleg copies of It's a Wonderful Life is great parody. But even in a film as purposely over the top as The Hebrew Hammer, the non-stop parade of broad stereotypes wears after awhile, and, for an 85-minute film, it lags notably in spots (particularly during a shrill, drawn-out Shabbat dinner at Mordechai's mother's house). The cast is probably the movie's best asset; up-and-comer Greer is charming as Esther, Dick does his snarky-bitchy thing as Damian, and Goldberg is both wry and intimidating as the Hammer. In supporting roles, Bad Santa's Tony Cox keeps the Christmas elf spirit alive as North Pole reject Jamal, and Van Peebles sends up his father Melvin and himself by playing up the kind of blaxsploitation hallmarks established in the elder Van Peebles' classic Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song. In the end, even though this Hammer may not be able to bust evil gentiles after sundown on Friday, he's funny enough to spend the Sabbath with. Comedy Central and Paramount offer The Hebrew Hammer in a good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby 2.0 Surround audio (closed captioning is available). Extras include a two-and-a-half minute gag reel, eight deleted/extended scenes, the original Hebrew Hammer short that Kesselman made in film school, cast and crew biographies, previews, clips from Comedy Central shows like "South Park" and "Reno 911!" and a commentary by Goldberg, Kesselman, Kesselman's brother Josh (who produced the film), and Sandra "Mama Kess" Kesselman. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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