Greedy Santa gets comeuppance from a Jewish super hero in wacky holiday spoof
Adam Goldberg as The Hebrew Hammer.
Although mostly fueled by Jewish self-deprecating humor, Jonathan Kesselman’s debut film, “The Hebrew Hammer,” manages to bring some comic relief to the Christmas—or in the case of leather clad, gun toting, fedora wearing, “certified, circumcised dick” hero Mordechai Jefferson Carver—Hanukkah season.
At the film’s opening, the world is seen through the eyes of a victimized young Mordechai, who experiences what it’s like to be a Jew in a Gentile-prominent world. As the rest of his classmates open presents by the many, Mordechai painfully opens a single Hanukkah gift, a small plastic dreidel. He is picked on by fellow students and singled out by his teacher who ridicules Hanukkah and his Jewish culture.
Santa Claus emerges from the shadows and steps on Mordechai’s Hanukkah dreidel crushing it completely. It’s certainly not the Santa you knew as a child. In a dark and Hanukkah-despising moment, good ole Saint Nick extends a hardy Merry Christmas along with his middle finger to a terrified Mordechai.
Fast forward a decade or so and from the prejudice and strife emerges a people’s hero—Mordechai, aka the Hebrew Hammer (Adam Goldberg). As he struts through his Jewish neighborhood á la Shaft circa 1970, we learn he has the love and respect from every Jew on the block. He is also quite the ladies man.
Meanwhile, at the North Pole, the reigning Santa Claus addresses his elf workforce during the start of Christmas season. The camera pans along a wall of portraits of previous Santa portraits suggesting a heretofore unknown line of succession to rival that of Britain’s royal family. A disgruntled son, who is next in line for the Santa Claus seat, heckles his father’s open-minded stance on the Hanukkah season. Within moments a hostile coup by the son, aka Santa Damian (Andy Dick) takes place. He ousts papa Santa with a violent reindeer antler attack. The new Santa announces his plan to eradicate Hanukkah.
The news reaches the ranks of the Jewish Justice League and Chief Bloomenbergansteinthal (Peter Coyote), a hard-assed militant, scrambles for a leader who can head up an effective response. The brass suggests every positive Jewish figure for the job but the chief rejects them all saying they need a “tough Jew.”
The chief’s daughter, Esther (Judy Greer), mentions The Hammer’s name. A stunned reaction from the board reveals Hammer has been banned from the Jewish Justice League for his radicalism. But in the end, after Steven Speilberg and Barry Manalow are rejected for the job, it is decided that The Hammer should take the assignment and Esther is sent to recruit him.
Mordechai flat out refuses the mission, instead inviting her to a Sabbath dinner at his overbearing mother’s house. Knowing a “nice Jewish girl” when she sees one, Mrs. Carver promises to sway the Hammer into taking the Hanukkah-saving mission if Esther promises to settle down with Mordechai and start a family.
Evil Santa has meanwhile released an extremely potent “Jewish pride weakening system” into the streets. The thousands of copies of “It’s a Wonderful Life” Santa’s right hand man, Tiny Tim, distributes are every bit as effective as the heroin of Blaxploitation films of the 70s. Young Jews everywhere are buying Christmas trees, caroling, and rejecting their faith.
A fast-acting Mordechai calls the Chief and orders copies of “Yentl,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” and Chaim Potok’s “The Chosen” to flood the community in response.
Dressed as Gentiles, Esther and The Hammer track down Santa at Kmart, but are quickly overpowered by brainwashed anti-Hanukkah kids. The heroes narrowly escape down a basement and are rescued by Harriet Tubbleman and the underground Jewish railroad. From that point, Santa hatches a plot to destroy the Jewish Atomic Clock—eliminating thousands years of Jewish history, Mordechai and Esther have their steamy relations cut short when The Hammer learns of his mother’s meddling, but they are reunited when Esther saves the day during a wild shoot out between The Hammer and the bad guys.
When Esther is kidnapped by Santa’s minions and spirited off to the North Pole, Mohammed (Mario Van Peebles) and the gun-wielding Kwanzaa Liberation Front, who fear that their holiday may be next on the chopping block, make their appearance to save the day. The Hammer finally faces his nemesis face to face, and he unleashes the most powerful weapon in the Jewish Justice League’s arsenal, Jewish guilt. When Esther is found nearby, her unlikely cellmate, former mayor Ed Koch, is saved as well.
Casting Adam Goldberg was a kosher decision. Who knows where Hanukkah’s fate would be without his convincing and comedic performance as The Hammer. Notable funny man Andy Dick and his quirky manner made Santa Damien the perfect arch nemesis for Hammer.
“The Hebrew Hammer” is a funny infusion of sorts. Though original in premise, it borrows stylistically from “Naked Gun” as well as the Blaxpoitation genre of the 70s. The shtick, Jewish self-mockery, and good old-fashioned ethnic humor bring steady laughs throughout. For those looking for an alternative to traditional holiday cinema, “Hammer” is a sure fit.