January 2, 2013
‘Hammer’ Time — Again?
'Hebrew Hammer' director hopes for sequel
Everyone’s favorite certified circumcised private dick is poised for a big return.
Nearly 10 years after “The Hebrew Hammer” hit theaters in 2003, there’s talk of a sequel featuring the titular Orthodox hero. Filmmaker Jonathan Kesselman, a native of Van Nuys, is eyeing a May shoot for “The Hebrew Hammer vs. Hitler.”
“I’m writing a love letter to Jewish culture,” he said.
To get started on the film, Kesselman is seeking $200,000 through the crowdfunding site Jewcer.com (a sort of Kickstarter for Jewish-themed projects that seeks small pledges from many donors). So far, he’s received more than $38,000 in pledges, which would go toward pre-production costs and making an offer to a “name” actor for the role of Hitler. He has until Jan. 28 to raise a minimum of $50,000.
“Since the recession, independent money is almost impossible to come by,” Kesselman said. “But there are so many fans behind [a sequel] already.”
What a difference a decade makes. Since the first film’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, independent filmmakers have endured a recession and the amputation of the studios’ art house arms. “The Hebrew Hammer,” which starred Adam Goldberg, cost $1.3 million, and Kesselman believes a sequel can be made for $1.5 million.
In the original film, the hero’s mission was saving Chanukah from extinction by the diabolical hand of Damian Claus (Andy Dick), Santa’s evil progeny. That movie’s cast featured a who’s who of familiar faces: “Saturday Night Live” alums Nora Dunn and Rachel Dratch, Peter Coyote (né Cohon), former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, and “blaxploitation” genre creator Melvin Van Peebles and son Mario.
In the proposed follow-up, the stakes escalate as the Hammer, a.k.a. Mordechai Jefferson Carver, works to prevent a time-traveling Hitler from rewriting Jewish history. His pitch on Jewcer describes it as “History of the World: Part 1” crossed with “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”
Based on a storyline he and Goldberg cooked up, Kesselman’s script promises a cavalcade of notable Jews — Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Albert Einstein, Anne Frank, Philip Roth and Steven Spielberg.
“There’s a scene in which Adam will be playing Jesus, as well,” said Kesselman, who envisions a Borscht Belt “Last Supper” scene featuring Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Sid Caesar and Larry David.
“The Hebrew Hammer” was Kesselman’s feature-film debut. In the last decade, he has gone on to direct myriad commercials (recently, for Red Mango frozen yogurt).
“I’m a better filmmaker than I was 10 years ago,” he said, thinking back to when the then-27-year-old first-time director covered 33 locations in 22 days. “I was so stressed!”
So was the original a box-office success?
“I have no idea,” admitted Kesselman, who never audited now-defunct producer ContentFilm in favor of retrieving the sequel rights.
He said he would like to reunite some of the original’s cast members, including Judy Greer, whose first leading role was as Goldberg’s love interest in the movie and who recently dazzled critics in “The Descendants.”
Kesselman insists that “The Hebrew Hammer” “wasn’t a parody of blaxploitation. I was tired of the way Jews were being portrayed on screen.”
Since 2003, movies such as “Munich,” “Defiance” and “Inglourious Basterds” have brought empowered Jews to the big screen while cinema has embraced postmodern genre-mashing where cowboys combat aliens, and our 16th president hunts vampires. Additionally, the animated time-travel/Hitler yarn, “I Killed Adolf Hitler,” based on cartoonist Jason’s 2008 Eisner Award-winning graphic novel, is in development.
Kesselman is not discouraged by such trending.
“Charlie Chaplin used Hitler in ‘The Great Dictator,’ ” he said. “As long as they’re making movies, Hitler will always be the ultimate villain."
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