After months of distribution hell, the Jewsploitation spoof "The Hebrew Hammer" will burst onto the large and small screens this Chanukah season. The saga of Mordechai Jefferson Carver (aka the "baddest Heeb this side of Tel Aviv") debuts on Comedy Central Dec. 8 before moving to theaters courtesy of Cowboy Pictures.
A preview screening, co-sponsored by The Jewish Journal, takes place at the University of Judaism Oct. 9, followed by a panel discussion with filmmaker Jonathan Kesselman and actors Adam Goldberg and Peter Coyote.
An homage to 1970s "blaxploitation" flicks such as "Superfly," the farce tells of an Orthodox stud (Goldberg) who battles Santa's evil son (Andy Dick) to save Chanukah. The film is Kesselman's response to Hollywood's "nebbishy and neurotic depiction of Jews," he said. "Just as blaxploitation films exaggerated the hell out of black stereotypes to take away their power, the Hammer exaggerates every Jewish stereotype."
While "Superfly" snorts cocaine off a crucifix, Carver sniffs antihistamines off his chai. When Santa pushes bootleg copies of "It's Wonderful Life" on Jewish kids, the Hammer arranges for videotapes of "Yentl" to hit the streets.
Getting the comedy into theaters proved a mission worthy of a real-life Jewish superhero. Despite the warm reception at Sundance and other 2003 film festivals, potential buyers called the film "too Jewish, too 'niche,'" Kesselman, 28, said.
"A lot of people were afraid of the racial Jewish tone of the movie, which is the nature of our little beast," said producer Josh Kesselman, the director's brother. "If a buyer leaves your screening saying he's offended, he's probably not going to distribute your film, and we had a few of those."
While the director was "distraught and baffled" by the critique, he persisted and, after pounding the Hollywood pavement for eight months, he and his producers hammered out a distribution deal. Sources told Variety the Comedy Central deal could be worth $1 million; a possible TV series and a movie sequel is in the works.
"So now I'm finally relaxing," Kesselman said. "Very few independent films air on national TV before going to theaters, so even people in Wyoming and Nebraska will be aware of the film."
And how will those non-Jews respond to the Hammer?
"They'll laugh," he said. "The movie is a broad comedy. You don't have to be a rabbinical student to enjoy it."
The UJ event, moderated by Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman, will be held Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. $10 (including a dessert reception). For tickets, call (310) 476-9777 ext. 473. For more information about the film, visit www.thehebrewhammer.com -- Naomi Pfefferman, Arts & Entertainment Editor