Got a problem that needs solving before Friday sundown? Than you need Mordechai Jefferson Carver, the Hebrew Hammer. The Hebrew Hammer is a wickedly funny parody of 70s blaxploitation films, only substituting a Jewish hero for an African-American one. In much the same way that Undercover Brother parodied black stereotypes, The Hebrew Hammer mocks Jewish stereotypes by embracing them and laughing at them.
Mordechai Jefferson Carver (Adam Goldberg) is a tough talking, hard hitting, religiously observant Jewish private eye in the mold of Richard Roundtree’s Shaft. As the film’s Shaft-like opening theme song states, “He’s a complicated Jew and no one understands him but his mother.” When Santa’s son Damien (Andy Dick) stages an extremely hostile take over of his father’s business, he sets into motion a plan to destroy Chanukah. Guilted into helping the Jewish Justice League (headed by an outrageous and unrecognizable Peter Coyote) by his mother (Nora Dunn), Mordechai teams with the attractive JJL agent Esther (Judy Greer) and Mohammed (Mario Van Peebles) of the Kwanzaa Liberation Front to stop Damien’s various evil schemes.
Self-deprecating humor like this is a tricky line to walk, with the risk of becoming the stereotype you’re mocking high. Fortunately first time writer/director Jonathan Kesselman guides the film with a steady hand and avoids that pitfall. Kesselman seems to have studied the anything goes style of comedy of films like Airplane and The Naked Gun, and learned his lessons well. By keeping his cast from playing their parts too broadly, he is able to accentuate the humor level of the film. Adam Goldberg plays his role as the tough talking Mordechai especially straight, never making his character a caricature. The jokes fly fast and thick in Hebrew Hammer and when they occasionally don’t hit their mark, there’s another already on its way.
Kesselman has also studied his blaxploitation movies well. Several scenes, including the one where Mordechai discovers his Jewish neighborhood being overrun by bootleg videos of It’s A Wonderful Life supplied by the evil Damien, echo sequences to be found in virtually any example from the genre. Kesselman also acknowledges his blaxploitation influence with a cameo from Melvin Van Peebles, whose 1971 film Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song, is considered the genre’s birth.
The Hebrew Hammer made the film festival rounds early this year and aired on cable’s Comedy Central before hitting theaters. A television detour on the way to a theatrical release may seem odd, but it is not without precedence. Linda Fiorentino’s work in 1994’s The Last Seduction was considered ineligible for Academy Award consideration, as the film had aired on HBO before hitting theaters. While it’s improbable that The Hebrew Hammer would be considered as Oscar nomination material, it is a movie that people of all religions who have a sense of humor about themselves should find entertaining.