Reviews, Vault Reviews — December 4, 2012 at 3:00 am

VAULT REVIEW: THE HEBREW HAMMER

by

Hanukkah begins at sundown on the eighth of December. I’m not Jewish, but the vault is an equal opportunity column. Sometimes, it’s that simple.

Ridiculed for his Jewish faith during his formative years, Mordechai Jefferson Carver (Adam Goldberg) has grown up and into a heroic career as a certified circumcised dick known as the Hebrew Hammer. As the baddest Heeb this side of Tel Aviv, the Hammer’s called upon by the Jewish Justice League Chief (Peter Coyote) when Damian (Andy Dick), the antisemitic son of Santa Claus (Richard Riehle), seizes control of his father’s reigns. Damian is hell-bent on eradicating Hanukkah and Kwanzaa to make Christmas the only December holiday. The Hebrew Hammer agrees to stop Damian, and though he has help from the JJL’s Esther Bloomenbergensteinenthal (Judy Greer) and Kwanzaa Liberation Front leader Mohammed Ali Paula Abdul Rahim (Mario Van Peebles), ultimately the fate of Hanukkah rests entirely on his shoulders.

Jonathan Kesselman’s The Hebrew Hammer nails the vibe of a 70′s blaxploitation film. The Hebrew Hammer spoofs not only the blaxploitation genre, but also many Jewish and Christian stereotypes. The stereotypes unsettled groups within both religions when it was filmed, but the overtly politically incorrect humor didn’t bother me nearly as much as casting the grating Andy Dick. At least any contemptuous feelings one might harbor towards him add to also disliking his portrayal of the vulgar, bigoted villain.

The Hebrew Hammer has quite a few masterful blaxploitation moments. The Hammer cruises the streets in a decked-out, low-riding pimp caddy and has a brief encounter with Sweetback himself, Melvin Van Peebles. The funniest is a montage set to the iconic Curtis Mayfield tune Pusherman wherein Damian’s henchman Tiny Tim (Sean Whalen) slings VHS copies of It’s a Wonderful Life to the Jewish youth.

Adam Goldberg, who is better known for his supporting roles, really gets a chance to shine as the Hammer. He struts the streets with attitude, sporting a black leather coat, big round shades and boots with Star of David spurs. He can take down a bar full of Nazi-skinheads, but is powerless against the disapproving remarks of his mother (Nora Dunn). He’s at his coolest when he’s battling the bigoted Santa, but even plays it straight when some of the jokes, like the Jewish Underground Railroad, drift a little too far into the ridiculous.

Judy Greer, a That Gal I’ve adored for longer than I can remember, is no slouch either. As Esther, she’s funny and tough alongside the Hammer, and Santa’s seductresses ain’t got nothing on her. Tony Cox makes a noteworthy appearance as the foul-mouthed Jamal whose only loyalties are to himself.

Unfortunately, Kesselman’s humor is too uneven and a little crude for some. You might be clutching your sides from laughter one moment then sitting in uncomfortable silence the next. Luckily, an enthusiastic cast and a handful of hilarious highlights make repeat viewings of The Hebrew Hammer a tolerable, even welcome, occasion.

♥♥♥1/2

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