MOVIE: *** (out of 5)
DVD EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5)
Adam Carolla as JERRY FERRO
Oswaldo Castillo as OSWALDO SANCHEZ
Harold House Moore as ROBERT BROWN
Christopher Darga as MIKE LEMAT
Jonathan Hernandez as VICTOR PADILLA
Heather Juergensen as LINDSAY PRATT
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Directed by: Charles Herman-Wurmfeld
BY KEVIN CARR
I’ve never been a sports fan, though I do occasionally like the inspirational sports movie. Sure, they can be cliched, cookie-cutter versions of each other, but it’s enjoyable to watch a sports film that can also serve as an allegory for success in life.
The rougher sports have a tougher time making a name for themselves against the more mainstream sports like football and baseball. Sure, you have “Rocky” as an exception, but boxing movies (and movies about fighting in general, as exhibited by the more recent “Here Comes the Boom” and “Warrior”) have trouble making it into the mainstream. The smaller films in this category tend to play out like the charming-yet-forgotten hockey film “Goon.” They play to the core fan audience and get lost in the mainstream shuffle.
Adam Carolla uses his own experience in boxing to bring some charm to “The Hammer.” The film follows Jerry Ferro (Carolla) as a once-talented boxer who works as a trainer at a local gym. His other vocational strength is carpentry, but that doesn’t stop him from getting fired off a job when he has a conflict with his boss. To help bring in some money, he starts boxing again, ostensibly to make it into the Olympic qualifiers. Originally planned on being just a sparring partner, Jerry manages to turn some heads and show he still packs a punch from his glory days.
The first thing that stood out to me with “The Hammer” was that it wasn’t just a simply “Rocky” knock-off. Rather than being a movie about a guy who “goes the distance,” “The Hammer” is about a guy just getting his shit together. For anyone in their late 30s and early 40s who has seen a great deal of their lives pass them by, this can be very relateable.
This is why “The Hammer” works. Like other good sports movies – from big-budget studio flicks like “Rudy” to smaller independent films like “Goon” – “The Hammer” is about more than just sports. In fact, the sports aspect of this film takes a back seat to the greater challenges in Jerry’s life.
It’s one thing to come up from nothing and become a champion. It’s another thing to recognize what opportunities have left you and what you need to do to get your life back on track. That’s the real focus of “The Hammer.” Boxing is just the conduit.
This allows the movie to offer a certain grounding that you wouldn’t see in a massive mainstream movie, yet it still taps into the true nature of “Rocky.” Whether or not Jerry makes it to the Olympics is irrelevant. The movie is about how he manages to put his life – and relationships – back together in middle age.
That’s not to say boxing isn’t a component of the film, but it allows that component to be present and still have some fun with it. Let’s face it, boxing experience or no, Adam Carolla is in no shape to step in the ring with any real contender. That allows the actor to lay on some fun self-deprecating humor. And again, most guys in their late 30s or early 40s can relate to that.
In the end, “The Hammer” turns out to be partly a second coming of age story, and Carolla manages to make himself sympathetic enough for that to work. His harder, more aggressive delivery you might see in his other venues takes a back seat to being his own punching bag, and that can be entertaining.
It’s also partly a relationship story. (I’m hesitant to say it’s a love story because this is such a mild focus of the film, and the end result of the relationship is just to show them enjoying each other’s company rather than stampeding towards a declaration of love.) Heather Juergensen plays the girl in the encounters, and she complements Carolla well while providing him with a realistic and not overly Hollywoodized girlfriend.
There are some rough patches in the film, particularly when Carolla rolls into his stand-up shtick during obviously improvised moments on set. This is a technique often used by comedians in movies that I’ve always been sour on, but it’s pretty forgivable in the context of this film.
The DVD includes a huge slate of deleted scenes and outtakes, along with a commentary track with Carolla and his writer and co-producer Kevin Hench. Other features include a relatively long conversation with Carolla and Ozzie (who plays his on-screen friend Oswaldo), a bunch of behind-the-scenes promotional segments, Ozzie’s recording session, the original trailer and a still gallery.