The Film: The Hebrew Hammer (2003)
The Principles: Jonathan Kesselman (Director/Writer). Adam Goldberg. Judy Greer. Mario Van Peebles. Andy Dick.
The Premise: When Santa’s son (Dick) threatens to destroy Hannukah, the Jewish Justice League recruits the efforts of The Hebrew Hammer (Goldberg) to save the day.
Is It Good: It’s…cute. Fun, even. But it seems to fall just shy of “good.” Not for lack of trying though. Kesselman falls somewhere in between Mel Brooks and Jay Roach; connecting some thoughtful commentary to the silly jokes like the former and…well, just making superficially silly jokes like the latter. As such he misses just about as many times as he hits. Taking the majority of its cues from the old Blaxploitation movies, the film manages to marry the struggles of both Jewish and black people, even if the whole thing is filtered rather toothlessly through the shadow that Christmas casts over Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Symbolism!
Except that it’s not always so toothless. The majority of the jokes are indeed low-hanging fruit that poke self-deprecating fun at certain (read: all) Jewish stereotypes, but the ones that work best have a few extra barbs that turn the laughs back in on themselves. And I suppose it’s a little unfair to ask that every joke in the entire piece have that sort of bite (though Chappelle’s Show poses a compelling argument to the contrary), but it’s the inconsistency that kind of undermines the entire thing. There’s a sense that the intention is a commentary on the ridiculousness of the whole “War on Christmas” phenomenon, but even if that is the case the silly little superficial jokes stand out like a sore thumb against the more pointed jabs and it sort of makes any perceived intention ring a touch false and hollow.
But then at the end they work in a joke about how Hanukkah isn’t even one of the High Holidays and even though it was structured to be a dig at the stereotypical Jewish mother there’s a bit of an undercurrent to it – especially when paired up with an earlier joke that had The Hammer finding himself unable to properly explain what The True Meaning of Hanukkah even is. And maybe it’s because I’m just a boring-ass white guy, but I honestly couldn’t really tell what they were going for. Was it just more silly self-deprecation? Was it a dig at all the Christians who are up in arms over their perceived “War on Christmas?” Truth be told it was probably both, and if that’s the general attitude towards Hannukah (“It’s not like it’s Yom Kippur,” Hammer’s mom says) then it kinda makes sense that they addressed the issue with such a silly movie, giving everything a bit of a metatextual texture, even if it was a blink-and-you-miss-it thing from being wrapped up in such a throwaway gag.
So all that to say that it works, until it doesn’t. But then it does again…until it doesn’t. And that, my friends, does not a “good” film make.
Is It Worth A Look: Inconsistencies and fuzzy politics aside, it IS fun. And that’s due completely to the fact that everyone involved is having a blast. All the way down to the Production Design crew. The whole thing feels decidedly low-budget and slightly amateurish, which adds to its charm. So yeah, it’s definitely worth checking out, but don’t expect anything more than a bunch of giggles and a few impressive moments.
Random Anecdotes: High Holiday or not, tomorrow is the first day of Hanukkah, so to all of our Jewish friends – Chag Sameach! Shabbat Shalom!
Cinematc Soulmates: Blazing Saddles. Ernest Saves Christmas. Eight Crazy Nights. An American Tail. That one episode of Rugrats.