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Arts and Entertainment

Movie Review: The Hammer

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If you've lived in the greater Los Angeles area for any length of time, you know Adam Carolla.

You may know him as the longtime partner of Dr. Drew Pinsky (read the LAist interview with him) on the popular late night call-in radio show Loveline; or perhaps you've heard The Adam Carolla Show on KLSX 97.1 in the morning on your way to work. Comedy Central viewers will know him from The Man Show, Crank Yankers, Drawn Together, and Too Late with Adam Carolla. Some of you will recognize his voice as "Death" on Family Guy. If you listened to KROQ in the late 90's, you probably remember Carolla's "Mr. Birchum" character on the Kevin & Bean morning show. Even Dancing With the Stars fans know Adam as one of the "stars" on the new season that just started.

Some longtime LA residents may also recognize Adam Carolla as their old boxing instructor, or traffic school instructor, or the carpenter who installed their closet doors, or the dude who steam-cleaned their carpet, or the kid who salted their fries at the McDonald's on Ventura.

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Carolla's long list of previous jobs has given him the life experience he draws from whenever he launches into one of his trademark rants on his radio show. But now he has added yet another job title to his lengthy resume... leading man.

Carolla's new movie, The Hammer hits theaters today (Fri. March 21) in select cities across America. It's a fictional story (somewhat inspired by Carolla's real life) about a guy named Jerry Ferro, who just turned 40, but doesn't have much going for him besides a witty sense of humor. Jerry was once an amateur boxer who had real potential, but true to his apathetic personality, quit the sport 20 years ago and has since floated aimlessly through life, bouncing from one construction job to another. After losing another job (and his girlfriend) the only bright spots left in his life are the support of his unlikely best friend- a Nicaraguan immigrant named "Ozzy", and the boxing classes he teaches at a Pasadena gym.

The gym soon presents Jerry with two unexpected opportunities- a cute, single student in his class named Lindsay, and a chance to spar a few rounds with pro boxer Malice Blake. Jerry manages to land one solid punch that drops the pro to the canvas, earning himself a chance to revive his amateur boxing career under the tutelage of trainer Eddie Bell. Jerry somehow manages to summon enough motivation to pursue both opportunities- the boxing AND the girl- and despite his age and his station in life, is successful with both. Along the way Jerry seems to find the sense of purpose he had been missing for the past two decades, but lucky for us, it doesn't dull his razor-sharp wit and crass sarcasm.

So... how did Mr. Carolla perform in his latest gig as leading man in a romantic comedy? Surprisingly well! I must admit that, going into the screening, I wasn't expecting a whole lot, even though I have been a big fan of Adam's radio & TV work since I moved to LA 11 years ago. If you're looking for someone to spew a 20-minute improvised rant about parking tickets, Adam is the obvious choice, but film acting is a different animal altogether. Nonetheless, Carolla really shined at the center of this very engaging, hilarious little film. I say "little" because this is not a big-budget hollywood formula romantic comedy, nor does it try to be. In fact, that's exactly why the film, and in particular Adam's laid-back performance, really worked. He didn't try too hard, and didn't take himself too seriously. Of course, it didn't hurt that he was essentially playing himself. Much of the dialogue felt like it was improvised on the spot (always a good thing, whether it was or not) and the chemistry between Jerry and Lindsay (played by Heather Juergensen) felt realistic and believable. The movie was directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, who previously directed Kissing Jessica Stein and Legally Blonde 2.

There are plenty of big laughs throughout the film, and several of them were provided by Jerry's loyal sidekick, Ozzy, played by Oswaldo Castillo. If Carolla's "Jerry" character was essentially himself, then Castillo's "Ozzy" was literally himself, as he really is a Nicaraguan construction worker that Carolla befriended during his carpenter days. He gave the film a sense of charming realism that would have been lost had they hired a "real" actor to play Ozzy.

Similar Films

The Hammer's story arc is similar to Rocky (the original 1976 Rocky, that is) and it is also similar in tone, in terms of how it realistically depicts the not-so-glamorous side of boxing. It seems only natural to compare the two films, but The Hammer is much lighter fare. I'd say there are more parallels with Bull Durham, in the way it works as both sports flick and romantic comedy, and also the aging protagonist mentoring a younger teammate storyline. I also felt The Hammer echoed movies like Sideways and LA Story, charming films with aging protagonists who were spinning their wheels before finding new love and new purpose, filmed on-location, reflecting the quirkiness and charm of their surroundings. The Hammer has a love/hate relationship with LA, just like many of us Angelenos. Another obvious movie comparison is Howard Stern's Private Parts, since both Stern and Carolla are irreverent morning radio jocks who managed to come off as charming and likable in their first turns as leading men.

The Verdict

4 out of 5 stars. Nothing too powerful or oscar-worthy here, but plenty of laughs and good performances in an unassuming little sports flick. Adam Carolla, don't quit your day job just yet, but you proved that you have acting chops in your tool box as well.

The Hammer opens Friday, March 21 at:
- Laemmle Sunset 5 (West Hollywood)
- Laemmle Playhouse 7 (Pasadena)
- AMC Burbank 8 (Burbank)
- Laemmle Monica 4 (Santa Monica)

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