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The Hebrew Hammer

by: Caroline Westbrook - Last updated: 2003-12-15

Hebrew Hammer

Adam Goldberg is the Hebrew Hammer

There haven't been many Jewish action heroes in film history - well, come to think of it there haven't been any - but with The Hebrew Hammer, first time filmmaker Jonathan Kesselman seeks to redress the balance. And boy, does he succeed.

Not only is this one of the best Jewish comedies of the past ten years, blending smart satire with a barrage of just-plain-stupid sight gags to winning effect, but it wins even more points for its feelgood outlook - in a world where Jewish characters on film are all too often unsympathetic stereotypes or oppressed victims, it makes a real change to see positive Jewish protagonists that aren't afraid to celebrate their heritage or mercilessly poke fun at themselves.

Adam Goldberg (who you might remember from Saving Private Ryan, A Beautiful Mind and Friends), is the title character, aka private investigator Mordechai Jefferson Carver - who has remained true to his heritage despite being the only Jewish kid in his school (as shown in a hilarious pre-credits sequence).

Something of a hero in his Brooklyn neighbourhood, his crimefighting skills are put to the test when he is called upon by secret society The Jewish Justice League (JJL) to save Chanukah from Damian, the evil son of Santa Claus, who is hellbent on destroying the festival. To help him in his quest, Hammer teams up with Mohammed, leader of the Kwanzaa Liberation Front (whose own festival is equally threatened by Damian's scheme) - but can out hero beat the bad guys, save the festival and still find time to settle down with nice Jewish girl Esther (Judy Greer)?

With much of what passes for Jewish comedy these days still stuck in traditional stereotypical humour, it's refreshing to see something that blows the cobwebs off such conventions and takes a genuinely new approach to its subject matter. Goldberg is hugely appealing - super-cool, true to his religion yet still unable to cope with his overbearing mother (Nora Dunn) - and there's nice supporting turns from Greer and Peter Coyote as the bagel-munching head of the JJL.

Yet perhaps Hebrew Hammer's greatest strength is its ability to laugh at itself, and to make humour out of subjects that other Jewish comedies might frown upon. The jokes about Jewish mothers, accountants and food are played out in a self-mocking manner, making them far funnier than they would normally have been - and there's a lot of edgy satire here, in among the sight gags and latke jokes. Of course, not everybody may be amused by the appearance of the Jewish Worldwide Media Conspiracy, or Goldberg seeing off a bar full of Neo Nazis with a handful of firearms and an unprintable Sabbath greeting - but there's still no denying this is bold, original stuff that should not only appeal to Jewish audiences seeking something different but should capture the imagination of non-Jewish viewers as well.

If it takes off, The Hebrew Hammer should put Jewish comedy well and truly back on the map. And it's not before time.

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The Hebrew Hammer