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The Hammer: A Movie That Thinks Outside of the Box(ing)

By Ryan —HodgeBlodge Lightweight Champion of the Globe

PUNCH!Recently in a comments-section conversation Miles (very correctly) pointed out that Indie movies are one of the last bastions of quality cinema. The problem with this of course is that the independence that makes them great, also makes them hard-to-hear about. So when someone sees a strong low-budget film, they have a moral obligation to share it with as many people as possible. Enter Adam Carolla’s The Hammer.

I put Carolla’s name in front of it for the same reason that Coppola put Mario Puzo’s name in front of The Godfather— this is their story, and the director is simply overseeing the telling of that story. This is not meant to compare The Hammer with The Godfather, but is simply my way of saying that The Hammer is practically an autobiography of Carolla’s path not taken—if he never got into radio (read: met Jimmy Kimmel), this is what his life would have been. If you’ve ever listened to him in any of his mediums, you know that Carolla was a boxer when he was young, a carpenter when he was older, and a smartass the whole time. Jerry Ferro (Carolla’s on-screen alter ego) is just that, except that he never left carpentry and the smartass-streak has caused a whole heap of problems.  He just turned 40, and through an unusual series of events he gets offered a chance to box in the US Olympic Trials—this would seem weird if Carolla didn’t make it seem so believable with his actual boxing skill and eventually the movie answers the questions about ultimately why he got the offer.

With the possible exception of baseball, no sport has had more movies made about it than boxing. And no sport has had more critical-acclaim with the possible exception of chariot-racing. There’s something special about boxing—the gladiators in the ring that are failures outside of it. There’s also a delicate skill to filming the brutality authentically; it’s a fete few filmmakers can pull off (it’s certainly tougher than making it look like Kevin Costner can hit a baseball.) All this is just a lead up to me saying this: the boxing scenes in The Hammer are some of the best I’ve ever seen.  There’s the occasional obviously-missed punch followed by a guy’s heading flying back, but by and large the sweet science is shown quite well. And yet the authenticity comes not in the ring but outside of it.

Jerry Ferro is a guy that can’t hold down a job, can’t keep a relationship going, and yet is utterly likeable. As with all great movie characters, his is the voice of the viewer and yet the viewer still cheers for him. He’s awkward but in a good way.  I don’t want to give too much away but the following exchange is just one of many great ones:

(Ferro is teaching a boxing class, while sporting a black eye from a fight.  He notices that a female student of his also has a black eye.)

Ferro: Where’d you get the shiner?

Student: A client.

Ferro:  I think prostitution should be legal.

Student: I’m a Public Defender.

Ferro:  Oh…well, um…I was just saying…I mean, I felt like you should know that about me.

Student: Where’d you get yours?

Ferro: A trick got out of control down on Santa Monica.

The HammerVery few mainstream critics actually bothered to see it, but those that did called it a “tweener”- that no genre actually fit it.  The fact that those reviewers felt this movie wasn’t formulaic enough should be all the praise you need.  It certainly has more than enough comedy, yet Sports Illustrated called it the best sports movie of 2008. It has some buddy comedy elements and some romantic comedy elements, yet it has a villain. It’s about redemption and success but not necessarily in the way you’ve come to expect.

It is this quality that makes it believable that it nearly was a straight-to-DVD movie.  Carolla, at the last minute, dropped the quarter-mil that it takes to get a movie onto the big-screen. A sign of faith but probably a poor investment, because despite the wide-release, it was essentially ignored—RottenTomatoes has 31 reviews for it. To put that in perspective Sandra Bullock’s The Proposal has 136 reviews and Transformers 2 has 206.  Sometimes it is the quantity, no matter the quality, that counts. And it’s because of this, that I bet it’s available on Netflix right now for you. Put it on your list.  Enjoy its quintessential Carolla-ness while being otherwise unique. And then pass it on. As Miles recently said: “…support the projects that we want to see more of, because that’s the only language the people responsible for funding these films are going to understand.”

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4 Responses

  1. Nicely done as usual, Ryan. I’ve been meaning to see this one for while, as Carolla talks about it in nearly every episode of his podcast.

  2. Yeah, this movie is really fun. I thought I wouldn’t like it because of the boxing element…but I was super surprised. Very funny, sweet and totally entertaining. It’s a good watch for sure.

  3. Miles, you’re just saying that cause I quoted you not once but twice in one review. (a new record.) If you’ve been listening to his podcast than some of the movie is going to be very familiar (i.e. rants about race, toggle bolts, and why only LA could have tar pits) but the fact that you listen to him at all means that you’re going to really enjoy it

  4. netflixed! thanks for tipping the scales, i’d been on the fence about this

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