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The Hebrew Hammer


The Hebrew Hammer


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The Hebrew Hammer has a curious, potentially ill-fated distribution scheme: A thoroughly bleeped-out version premières on Comedy Central before the unedited version hits theaters. It remains to be seen whether audiences will pay to see a slightly different version of a movie anyone with basic cable can get for free, but if nothing else, the theatrical version will benefit from not being interrupted by commercial breaks, which are likely to significantly damage its already sluggish pacing. The theatrical version has another advantage: Audiences won't be able to change channels after being subjected to Nora Dunn's braying burlesque of an overbearing Jewish mother, or Peter Coyote's over-the-top tribute to Moshe Dayan. Though it bills itself as a "Jewsploitation" movie, The Hebrew Hammer not surprisingly follows closely in the footsteps of broad, crowd-pleasing culture-clash crime-fighting comedies like Undercover Brother and the Austin Powers movies. In fact, The Hebrew Hammer would feel a whole lot fresher and more original if those movies didn't exist, though it does possess a sleazy secondhand charm. Opening with a tongue-in-cheek nod to Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (whose writer-director-star, Melvin Van Peebles, makes an appearance, along with his son Mario), Hammer stars Adam Goldberg as a Hasidic crimefighter who's chosen to help the Chosen People when evil Santa Andy Dick threatens to destroy Hanukkah. Though it looks like it cost about $75 to make, The Hebrew Hammer manages a few funny riffs on the way Jews can feel alienated from mainstream culture, most notably when Dick tries to weaken their resolve by distributing bootleg copies of It's A Wonderful Life to children, in a clever sequence highlighted by a photo montage set to Curtis Mayfield's "Pusherman." Hammer also boasts an appealing lead performance from Goldberg, who winningly combines everyJew neuroses with laconic cool. Unfortunately, Hammer is ultimately more interested in exploiting clichés than subverting or commenting on them, and Coyote and Dunn's grotesque caricatures are embarrassing. The Hebrew Hammer might be the funniest Hanukkah-themed comedy of all time, but considering that its only real competition is Adam Sandler's execrable Eight Crazy Nights, that's about as faint as praise gets.