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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

The Hebrew Hammer and Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights (review)

Oy Vey

The world has been awaiting the definitive Hanukkah comedy, and after taking a look at The Hebrew Hammer, I can reveal: The world is still waiting.

I had such hopes for this one, too, and even managed to hang onto them for a while during the movie. Writer/director Jonathan Kesselman dares to attempt the first “Jewsploitation” flick, something else the world has been awaiting for years, and he got the underappreciated Adam Goldberg (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, The Salton Sea) to swagger around in leather and sidelocks as private (circumcised) dick Mordechai Jefferson Carver, who’s “part man. part street. 100% kosher.” The kids love him — “Stay Jewish,” he admonishes them lovingly — even though the Jewish Justice League has some issues with his methods. Still, they call him in on the case of Damian Claus (Andy Dick), Santa’s evil son, who’s trying to wipe out Hanukkah for good.
Hammer is pretty cleverly amusing up to this point, and the opening sequence — in which the overbearing obnoxiousness of commercial Christmas cheer is a real bummer to a little Jewish kid, and the attempts at, er, inclusiveness from the gentiles more condescending than anything else — might be required viewing for anyone who thinks that it’s okay to exclude minority viewpoints from public expression simply because they are minority. Goldberg exudes exactly the right amount of self-deprecation to pull off his unlikely character, half parody and half genuine longing that the pantheon of Jewish stories had produced a character like this. Judy Greer (The Village, 13 Going on 30), too, has smart comic timing and real charm as Mordechai’s sidekick, Esther Bloomenbergansteinthal.

But as Esther’s surname suggests, Hammer starts substituting cleverness with chutzpah, indulging in outrageous stereotyping rather than sticking with characters, like Mordechai, who were recognizably real under the comedy — his mother, played by Nora Dunn (Laws of Attraction, Runaway Jury), is pretty unforgivably screechy and awful, and her whole subplot detracts from the business of satirizing holiday insanity and the sidelining of anyone who doesn’t march in lockstep with the dominant culture. Kesselman ends up veering from ridiculous but pointed commentary into abusing and insulting those he intends to champion. Still, a movie in which a Jewish Justice League saves a seat for the “Chairman of the Worldwide Jewish Conspiracy” — which includes Adam Sandler movies — isn’t looking to be taken too seriously in the first place.

Gone to potty
I’m not saying there is a powerful worldwide conspiracy of Jews, of course, but it is somewhat suspicious that untalented perpetual kindergartner Adam Sandler has any kind of career. What else but the insidious machinations of globally interconnected schemers can explain the existence of Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights? It purports to be a heartwarming animated Hanukkah film for the whole family, but it is instead the perfect example of how juvenile toilet humor and offensive product placement can combine to form a toxic substance that should be handled only through a protective spacesuit with its own independent air supply. If you must handle it at all, of course.

Horrid. Horrid horrid horrid movie, so appalling you can’t believe someone actually committed some of this stuff to film, animated or not. Sandler’s (Anger Management, Punch-Drunk Love) Davey Stone is like a Jewish Hanukkah Grinch, only without the charm or personality of the Christmas one. He hates Hanukkah, hates Christmas, presumably hates Kwanzaa and Festivus, too, and he runs drunkenly around his snow-covered Currier-and-Ives New England town singing — singing! arrrgghhh! — “While you’re singing your holiday tune / I’m acting like the town buffoon.” Which is an understatement. He starts off his intoxicated rampage with the “longest burp” ever — which, dear god, it actually may be — and then (I can’t believe I’m about to write this) He. Humps. His. Car. *sigh*

The whole thing is even more potty-mouthed than you can possibly imagine, even for Adam Sandler. And “potty-mouthed” is the only thing to call it: the movie is like a snotty little kid who thinks he can shock you with all the naughty words he knows and all the juvenile jokes about sex he’s heard enough of to repeat without really understanding. It’s sad, really.

And yet, in an evil cinematic accomplishment without parallel, one that must be acknowledged, if with a stunned, breathless disbelief, Eight Crazy Nights — which, honestly, doesn’t have much to do with Hanukkah at all — actually finds ways to go downhill from the car-humping. And I’m not even referring to the line, uttered by one character, “The worst has happened: I’m covered in human feces,” nor that this is not metaphorical but a literal description of events depicted onscreen. No, I’m talking about the most gratuitous and detestable example of advertising I’ve ever seen within a film of any kind, in which Davey retreats to the only place where he finds any comfort — the shopping mall — and then finds himself being castigated in song by the characters that embody the spirit of FootLocker and Orange Julius and Spencer Gifts. The idea that advertising and commercial fakery could shame someone — even Davey Stone — into being a better person is laughable. That this is one of few moments in which Eight Crazy Nights is attempting to be serious just makes it even worse.

The Hebrew Hammer
viewed at home on a small screen
rated R for language, some sexual references and drug use
official site | IMDB

Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights
viewed at home on a small screen
rated PG-13 for frequent crude and sexual humor, drinking and brief drug references
official site | IMDB



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