Reviews

The Hebrew Hammer (2003)

Kevin Jagernauth

The Hammer remains confused and conflicted, almost apologetic for who he is.


The Hebrew Hammer

Director: Jonathan Kesselman
Cast: Adam Goldberg, Judy Greer, Mario Van Peebles, Nora Dunn, Peter Coyote, Andy Dick
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Paramount
First date: 2003
US DVD Release Date: 2004-11-16

Each December, as Christmas trees go up and many families gather 'round to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas and A Wonderful Life for the umpteenth time, Jewish families quietly light their menorahs and celebrate Hanukah. The Hebrew Hammer, a "Jewspolitation" film by Jonathan Kesselman, isn't a picture to be viewed by families. Still, it does attempt to evoke a sense of Jewish dignity and celebration in its revisionist mythologizing. While the Christians have Santa Claus and Jimmy Stewart as holiday icons, Kesselman introduces Mordecai Jefferson Carver, a.k.a. the Hebrew Hammer (Adam Goldberg). The "Semitic Stud" and a "Certified Circumcised Dick," the Hebrew Hammer means to make Hanukah cool for Jewish kids everywhere.

The film opens with Santa Claus' murder at the hands of his son Damian (Andy Dick), who, unlike his dad, hates Hanukkah. Vowing to eradicate it, he intends to brainwash Jewish children into rejecting their faith and embracing Christmas instead. Enlisting the help of Tiny Tim (Sean Whalen), he heads to the Hammer's "Chood" and begins distributing bootleg copies of It's A Wonderful Life. It doesn't take long for the Jewish Justice League to get wind of Damian's nefarious plans and the Hammer is enlisted to save Hanukkah.

Kesselman borrows heavily from blaxploitation conventions. The Hebrew Hammer is appropriately pimped out, complete with a long flowing black trench coat, fedora, sunglasses, and a low-riding Cadillac that would make Snoop Dogg proud. However, the film's stereotyping of the Hammer backfires. As tough as he is, he is also kvetching and neurotic, the same Jewish character Woody Allen has played throughout his career, only minus the sharp writing. The Hebrew Hammer and its title character don't reflect confidence and resistance against a corrupt and oppressive system, as the blaxploitation films did. Rather, the Hammer remains confused and conflicted, almost apologetic for who he is.

An early scene has the Hammer arguing with his mother who constantly compares him to a neighbor's son, an investment banker. The Hammer, though he serves his community, is made to feel as less than worthy by his own mother. Moreover, when he's assigned to save Christmas by the Anti-Denigration League, he complains about the responsibility.

The commentary reveals I'm not the only who questioned the portrayal of Jews in the film. Kesselman notes that the Anti-Defamation League (who are renamed the Anti-Denigration League in the film) objected to the script, calling the director "an equal opportunity offender." These are the sorts of stereotypes that have plagued Jews for years. Most offensive is the Hammer's "secret weapon" -- he saves the day by whining and laying on Damian the dreaded "Jewish guilt," overpowering him in the process. With this move Kesselman seals the deal in portraying his people as complainers who use guilt to achieve their goals.

Included on the DVD is, Kesselman's original short film of The Hebrew Hammer, which would serve as the template for the big screen version. In the sharper, funnier and more daring short film, the Hammer hates Gentiles and murders Santa Claus in cold blood. The short film version of the Hammer is the polar opposite of his multiplex counterpart. An oversexed, cocaine-snorting "badass," he's a "Semitic Stud," determined to make the world better for his community. Unfortunately, in adapting his character for the big screen, Kesselman rounded the edges that made short film Hammer so intriguing.

The feature film version becomes repetitive about halfway through, and includes unnecessary detours and chase sequences to fit a (barely) 90-minute running time. Like the worst of Saturday Night Live sketches brought to the big screen (A Night at The Roxbury and It's Pat come to mind), Kesselman spreads his material painfully thin. And through it all, the Hebrew Hammer personifies and reinforces the worst Jewish stereotypes.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Film

Nazis, Nostalgia, and Critique in Taika Waititi's 'Jojo Rabbit'

Arriving amidst the exhaustion of the past (21st century cultural stagnation), Waititi locates a new potential object for the nostalgic gaze with Jojo Rabbit: unpleasant and traumatic events themselves.

Television

Why I Did Not Watch 'Hamilton' on Disney+

Just as Disney's Frozen appeared to deliver a message of 21st century girl power, Hamilton hypnotizes audiences with its rhyming hymn to American exceptionalism.

Music

LA Popsters Paper Jackets Deliver a Message We Should Embrace (premiere + interview)

Two days before releasing their second album, LA-based pop-rock sextet Paper Jackets present a seemingly prescient music video that finds a way to ease your pain during these hard times.

Books

'Dancing After TEN' Graphic Memoir Will Move You

Art dances with loss in the moving double-memoir by comics artists Vivian Chong and Georgia Webber, Dancing After TEN.

Music

Punk Rock's WiiRMZ Rage at the Dying of the Light on 'Faster Cheaper'

The eight songs on WiiRMZ's Faster Cheaper are like a good sock to the jaw, bone-rattling, and disorienting in their potency.

Music

Chris Stamey Paints in "A Brand-New Shade of Blue" (premiere + interview)

Chris Stamey adds more new songs for the 20th century with his latest album, finished while he was in quarantine. The material comes from an especially prolific 2019. "It's like flying a kite and also being the kite. It's a euphoric time," he says.

Music

Willie Nelson Surveys His World on 'First Rose of Spring'

Country legend Willie Nelson employs his experience on a strong set of songs to take a wide look around him.

Music

Gábor Lázár Is in Something of a Holding Pattern on 'Source'

Experimental electronic artist Gábor Lázár spins his wheels with a new album that's intermittently exciting but often lacking in variety.

Music

Margo Price Is Rumored to Be the New Stevie Nicks

Margo Price was marketed as country rock because of her rural roots. But she was always more rock than country, as one can hear on That's How Rumors Get Started.

Music

DMA'S Discuss Their Dancier New Album 'The Glow'

DMA'S lead-singer, Tommy O'Dell, discusses the band's new album The Glow, and talks about the dancier direction in their latest music.

Music

The Bacon Brothers Deliver Solemn Statement With "Corona Tune" (premiere + interview)

Written and recorded during the 2020 quarantine, "Corona Tune" exemplifies the Bacon Brothers' ability to speak to the gravity of the present moment.

Music

Garage Rockers the Bobby Lees Pay Tribute to "Wendy" (premiere)

The Bobby Lees' "Wendy" is a simmering slice of riot 'n' roll that could have come from the garage or the gutter but brims with punk attitude.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.