HEBREW HAMMER, THE
Hanukkah is under threat from Christmas, thanks to Santa's evil son (Andy Dick) murdering his father to take over the Christams franchise. The private dick known as The Hebrew Hammer, Mordachai Jefferson Carver (Adam Gould) is recruited to do the job by Esther (Judy Greer) on behalf of the Jewish Justice League, whose chief is her father (Peter Coyote).
Review by Andrew L. Urban
The Hebrew Hammer is a broadly comedic sorta Yiddish Shaft, using stereotypes as a bouncing board (or dartboard), its references to the Mike Hammer genre pulsating on its sleeve (as are its references to slapstick comedy). But don't think the jokes are all at non-Jews' expense; Kesselman targets every known Jewish caricature as well as the Santa clause. Peter Coyote revels in his oversized, eye-patched role as the fanatical Jewish leader, and Adam Gould plays it deadpan, in a cross between a tough guy and whinging stereotype. (And watch for the final test of his Jewishness with a 'whining meter'.) Happily offensive to anyone within smiling distance, the film spoofs the brothers, the spiks and the kikes with equal abandon.
You have to submit to the film's energetic enthusiasm for its own sense of humour. Like the moment when a dastardly plan is hatched involving bootleg copies of Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life. This is one of the myriad movie references that drive Kesselman's screenplay.
The hamfisted humour would get tiresome if he didn't move the pace with the sense of a firecracker, but some of the lines are truly inspired and original, as are some of the scene set ups. In a way, you can see it as a series of stand up routines for film, complete with self deprecating humour.
The soft spots drag the film down about the middle, and the jokes start to seem repetitive, but there's a rescue remedy in a pseudo sex scene in which the Hammer is asked to talk dirty - which for him is not the same as for you and I.
Kesselman finds inspiration for some new gags (stunt elves wearing Stunt Elf T shirts), the editing gives the film enough pace to keep it moving with a sense of fun - and of course, a good dose of the ultimate Jewish weapon: guilt. Go with the flow.
Review by Jake Wilson:
If memory serves, the last comedy to kick off with the bloody murder of Santa Claus was Divine Intervention, by the brilliant young Palestinian art filmmaker Elia Sulieman. In style and sensibility as well as cultural background, Sulieman is obviously worlds away from New York film school graduate Jonathan Kesselman, who makes his feature debut with this aggressively vulgar exercise in Jewish identity politics. What these two filmmakers do share, however, are specifically defined satirical targets and a willingness to draw blood.
Indeed, it's Kesselman's genuine anger which makes The Hebrew Hammer more entertaining than it has any right to be. No question, the film is little more than an anthology of familiar ethnic stereotypes, many of them stale enough to embarrass Mel Brooks. But since the idea of a macho Jewish avenger still sounds like the premise for a Saturday Night Live skit, I guess the feelings of oppression that lie behind the basic joke remain valid. Indeed, the politically correct use of anti-semitic slurs as punchlines probably seems edgier now than it would have a few decades ago. And though it's hard to feel so positive about the equally retrograde sexism, we all know nothing is funnier than castration anxiety.
Anyway, by comparison with the jaded hacks who write and direct most current Hollywood comedies, Kesselman shows an almost indecent zest for making the audience laugh. There are more gags per minute here than in any movie since Looney Tunes: Back In Action, and come to think of it, The Hebrew Hammer above all resembles a live action Tex Avery cartoon, with its short-fuse genre parodies and its penchant for stray signs and labels (like the one identifying the head of the International Jewish Business Conspiracy). On the debit side, there's the usual proportion of unimaginative gay and fart jokes, and the casting is less than ideal: Andy Dick I can take or leave, and while Adam Goldstein has the right glowering, nerdy charisma, he's far from matching the neurotic glory of Ben Stiller, who nailed a similar role in the otherwise hit-or-miss Mystery Men.
Email this article
HEBREW HAMMER, THE (M)
CAST: Adam Goldberg, Judy Greer, Andy Dick, Mario Van Peebles, Peter Coyote, Nora Dunn
PRODUCER: Josh Kesselman, Sofia Sondervan, Lisa Fragner
DIRECTOR: Jonathan Kesselman
SCRIPT: Jonathan Kesselman
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Kurt Brabbée ASC
EDITOR: Dean Holland
MUSIC: Michael Cohen
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Cabot McMullen
RUNNING TIME: 80 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Imagine Entertainment
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 25, 2004