Stories of past-their-prime athletes returning for one last shot at glory are too numerous — on celluloid or otherwise — to mention. But “The Hammer,” a little-known 2008 independent film starring Adam Carolla as a 40-year-old construction worker and former boxing prospect, is a sweet surprise of a movie.
Don’t get me wrong. Thoughts of watching the wisecracking Carolla — Jimmy Kimmel’s cohort on “The Man Show” — as a film actor, much less as one playing either a carpenter or a boxer, made me cringe. (As an aside, I did think Carolla was the only redeeming part of MTV’s old “Loveline” advice show with the tiresome Dr. Drew.) I wasn’t even sure if I could sit and listen to Carolla’s nasally voice, which he’s used famously in the role of Death on “Family Guy,” for the length of a movie. And I was skeptical to say the least that I’d be able to suspend disbelief long enough to accept him in the role of Jerry Ferro, a onetime fighter whose nickname “The Hammer,” was one he held before becoming a carpenter, contrary to popular opinion.
I’m pleased to report I was wrong. Though Carolla never quite looks like a competitive boxer — not even Gerry Cooney appeared that out of shape — he made the role believable, and more importantly he brought a lot of heart and charm to it. His being in his 40s and not possessing the chiseled physique of a young fighter actually is a significant part of the role. Jerry has been labeled an underachiever throughout his life, and while he has a good heart and good intentions, he never seems to follow through on things. He works construction for contractors who look down on him, and he comes home to a girlfriend who reminds him he’s drifting through life without accomplishing anything. To top it off, he drives an old pickup with a passenger door that never seems to open or close as it should.
But one thing Jerry has always had is a jarring left hook, and one day while sparring at a gym, he catches the eye of a trainer who convinces him to lace up the gloves one more time.
As expected, “The Hammer” delivers the laughs early and often, but for the most part it doesn’t do so the cheap way. A nice little romance blossoms between Jerry and one of his YMCA-style boxing-class students, Lindsey (Heather Juergensen), an attorney. In another surprise, they have great on-screen chemistry that makes it more than an enjoyable subplot to Jerry’s boxing quest. After a first date to the LaBrea Tar Pits — at her suggestion — he quips that he’d be happy to show her a landfill in Pacoima their next time out.
Jerry’s sidekick, Nicaraguan immigrant Oswaldo, is also a lot of fun and helps provide not only additional comic relief but a warm vibe to the whole proceeding. Refreshingly, the film doesn’t demean the Oswaldo character or others with stereotypes. At one point, it raises an interesting point about race and political correctness in sports, when Jerry debates with his teammate and rival, Robert Brown, a young fighter who calls himself a black Lamborghini while Jerry is by comparison a sputtering economy car. Jerry basically says that whether he says blacks are naturally better athletes or the same athletically as whites, he’d be criticized either way. The scene deftly addresses a loaded issue while still retaining the sense of humor that floats “like a butterfly...” throughout the film.
Carolla, who came up with the story idea loosely based on his own real-life experiences (go figure) as a carpenter and boxing class instructor, doesn’t rely on vulgarity, gross-out humor or physical gags to get laughs. He manages to come across as likable and genuine, and there are very good supporting performances across the board. While the premise follow a well-worn path, there are plenty of bright moments along the way.
“The Hammer” is a feel-good movie that sucker-punches you with its surprising heart and humor.
Dave Kavanaugh is sports editor for the Las Vegas Optic. He may be reached at 425-6796 in the evenings or email@example.com.