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Oy! to the World: Celebrating the 'Hebrew Hammer'
November 28, 2011  | By Eric Gould
 
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No one covers holiday programming like TVWW, and by that, we mean Hanukkah, too. Case in point: we remind you of Shalom TV's annual roll-out of The Hebrew Hammer. It ushers in the annual Festival of Lights with a "Blaxploitation" parody sending up every Jewish cultural stereotype possible in irreverent Airplane style -- from the almighty Jewish Guilt to the meddling Jewish mother.

Released in 2003, this self-branded "Jewxploitation" film was the brainchild of Jonathan Kesselman while still in film school at USC -- where he made it, initially, as a short. It was picked up shortly thereafter by ContentFilm, and expanded into a full-length feature starring Adam Goldberg (Saving Private Ryan, Entourage).

The very, ahem, unorthodox Hammer in the title is Mordecai Jefferson Carver, a veteran of the Israeli Defense Force and now a private detective. Or, as he's identified in the stenciled lettering on his pebbled glass office door, a "Certified Circumcised Dick."

He's now the "Baddest Hebe this side of Tel Aviv," in the Brooklyn neighborhood where he's a lone wolf, protecting little Jewish kids and keeping them proud of their culture.

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As The Hebrew Hammer begins, Mordecai has been recruited by Esther Bloomenbergensteinenthal (the ironically cast shiksa, Judy Greer) to save Hanukkah from certain extinction at the hands of Santa's renegade son, Damian (Andy Dick). Damian has dispensed with the moderate Santa in a Macbeth-style reindeer-led bloody patricide, completing his takeover of the North Pole. He wants December and Christmas all for himself -- and the WASPs.

To the funk beat of a '70s-style black action film, the "Hammer" is true to his tough-guy brand. He's dressed as half pimp, half Hassid, variously sporting a prayer shawl (the Tallis) as a scarf and a Rambo-style headband. He's one step ahead of the plot to kill Hanukkah, smirking to the Chief of the Jewish Justice League (JJL) who sends him into to action with, "it's your Bar Mitzvah, baby."

The fun of Kesselman's script is his willingness to upturn any sacred cow in the culture, equal to Larry David's extremes in HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm and notably ahead of Adam Sandler's 2007 ethnic exercise in comedy, 2007's You Don't Mess with the Zohan.

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Kesselman pretty much pulls out all the stops, and covers everything from the Hammer's joyless childhood spinning top -- every Jewish kid's deadly-dull Hanukkah Dreidel -- to mocking references of conspiracies shown in the film that, true to bigoted suspicion, do actually control world-wide finance and media.

Kesselman also pairs The Hammer with Mohammed Ali Paula Abdul Rahim (Mario Van Peebles), himself a leader as head of the KLF -- the Kwanzaa Liberation Front. Together they go after Damian's plan for worldwide Christmas domination, a clever teaming of two minorities with unexpectedly similar comic axes to grind.

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Part of Damian's scheme is to have dealers, to the tune of the Superfly theme, flood the Brooklyn neighborhoods with bootleg copies of It's a Wonderful Life, in order to get kids irretrievably addicted to Christmas. Mordecai fights back, making interventions with copies of Yentl and Fiddler on the Roof that he keeps in the trunk of his pimped-out Cadillac.

From there, a la Airplane, there are sight gags galore -- and they're the best part. (These include an aerial shot of JJL Headquarters in Washington, D.C., a military complex in the shape of a Star of David, above, instead of the expected Pentagon.)

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But there are clever verbal jokes, too, as when Esther whispers to Mordecai to talk dirty to her before sex. He whispers in her ear: "I want to have lots of children by you. Get a good paying, stable job. Settle down in Long Island somewhere. Someplace nice. Fancy, but not fancy-schmancy..."

Kesselman's Hebrew Hammer pokes fun in the best traditions of Jewish humor -- from Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl onward -- with its spearing of the mainstream culture and its simultaneous self-deprecating, mocking of its own, as a way of getting some equal footing.

Some of the gags may seem a little too inside the culture -- but all in all, it's broad enough for a good romp around the Hanukkah Bush.

This film will get you laughing, as Hammer says, "Six ways to Shabbas, baby."

The Hebrew Hammer is available, free, on the Shalom TV channel, via on-demand services of TV providers like Comcast, Cablevision, Time Warner, Verizon FiOS and others, through Dec. 31

Here's the YouTube trailer, just to give you a taste:

 
 
 
 
 
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