Adam Carolla's boxing comedy The Hammer is so charmingly low key that it practically defies criticism. Carolla himself articulated it best (in the DVD's special features) when he said, "It's gonna be good, maybe not great, but definitely good." He is exactly right: the movie is good. It might not be Rocky (or even Rocky Balboa for that matter), but Carolla wasn't aiming quite that high in the first place. Clearly Carolla's goal was to provide a lightweight, sports-oriented comedy that could be enjoyed by a wide audience. In those terms, The Hammer is a smashing success.
The Hammer is a semi-autobiographical account of Carolla's pre-celebrity life. Carolla plays a freelance carpenter named Jerry Ferro who, despite being an all-around amiable guy, doesn't have much going for him. The film opens on Jerry's 40th birthday, as he realizes he hasn't quite accomplished everything he wanted to before that important benchmark. To top things off Jerry manages to get himself and his best friend Ozzie fired, and his girlfriend kicks him out of their apartment.
With nothing left except a boxing class he teaches at the local gym, he ends up on Ozzie's sofa looking for a way to change his life. Luckily Jerry still has a mean left hook, which in his younger days earned him his "Hammer" nickname. While sparring in the gym with another boxer, Jerry draws the attention of boxing coach Ernie Bell. Bell is recruiting boxers for the US Olympic team. He encourages Jerry to try out, even though Jerry hasn't boxed in twenty years. It's up to Jerry to decide where this opportunity will take him. Will he put the work in or will he give up, as he has been doing his whole adult life?
Carolla ably carries the movie on the strength of his likeable persona. Much of the success of The Hammer comes from how well Carolla's strengths are utilized. This isn't a belly-laugh type of comedy, but rather a comedy of chuckles and snickers – and those occur frequently. The movie is a very relatable take on the struggles of becoming successful. Jerry is not the cliched, pot-smoking loser who hasn't even moved out his parents' house, prevalent in so many movies that try to tackle the same themes. Rather he is a normal, self-sufficient guy who just never put in the effort needed to rise above just-getting-by status.
Carolla offers his trademark unique observations on society – not only to his pal Ozzie, but also to a young boxer (Harold House Moore) he takes under his wing. Adding a romantic dimension to the movie, Jerry begins dating one of his female boxing students, Lindsay (Heather Juergensen – also one of the film's producers). While the romance may be a fairly predictable element of the movie, it's really not a weakness. Whether Jerry is speculating about how cheap the Dutch must be to earn the "let's go Dutch" term or pontificating on the attraction of the La Brea tar pits, we are – along with Lindsay – won over by his charm.
While The Hammer may not be the most original or ambitious movie ever, it is certainly a worthwhile effort. Carolla made the movie independently and even ponied up some of his own dough to get prints made for a limited theatrical release. However, the movie looks as professional as any similar movie that comes out of a Hollywood studio. The acting is strong for the most part (Juergensen, though servicable, has her share of dull line readings). Oswaldo Castillo, who is a long time friend of Carolla's rather than a professional actor, turns in a particularly natural and funny performance as Jerry's friend Ozzie.
The DVD of The Hammer boasts a nice quantity of special features. The deleted scenes are nice to see, but it is no mystery why they didn't make the cut. The brief outtake reel is a waste of time – I mean, are these really the funniest mistakes that occurred during production? Somehow, with a master improviser like Adam Carolla, I doubt it. There are a number of other bells and whistles that are likely to be watched and never returned to again, including a series of behind-the-scenes promotional segments. The real highlight of the features is an informative (and hilarious) commentary track from Carolla and screenwriter Kevin Hench. Carolla talks for a living (on his nationally syndicated radio show) so it makes sense that he's in his element doing a DVD commentary. He offers a lot of interesting anecdotes about the production – all laced with humor.
Special mention must be made about The Hammer's MPAA rating; it earned an R rating. The reason cited is, and I quote, "Brief Language." Carolla was incensed at the rating, complaining frequently on his show that the language wasn't strong enough to warrant it. In fact, the dreaded F-word appears exactly twice – neither time in a sexual context (though one time it is preceded by "mother"). Seriously, if Carolla didn't want to risk receiving an R, why weren't those two potentially offending usages edited from the film (or redubbed)? Regardless, this is one of the mildest R-rated movies I've ever seen so don't let it scare you off. For the most part, The Hammer is suitable for all audiences.