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The Hammer

Return to the Ring Yields a Knockout

The Hammer might sound like a movie only diehard Adam Carolla fans, however many there may be, could appreciate. The onetime "Man Show" host is in almost every scene, and his performance is as integral to the story’s appeal as any leading man’s could be.

Carolla has worn many hats during his improbable rise, starring on his own reality show after a decade-long run with radio’s "Loveline", but as a dramatic actor he’s a virtual novice. To his credit, he carries The Hammer with self-assured ease, hoisting the film on his broad shoulders while making sure, as screenwriter, to leave some of its sharpest one-liners to his supporting cast.

Then again, who else could play Jerry Ferro, the 40-year old amateur boxer who gives up construction work to train for the Olympics? Based very loosely on Carolla’s own story -- he earned his break training future TV partner Jimmy Kimmel in the ring while supporting himself with his toolbelt -- The Hammer suggests Rocky recast as a dialogue-rich comedy, with the Italian Stallion’s unassuming earnestness mostly intact but complemented by a world-weary sarcasm.

That’s just Carolla, of course. Along with Kevin Hench -- known to many for his well-publicized friendship with ESPN’s Sports Guy -- Carolla began developing this familiar underdog tale years ago, and it is carefully tailored to his image as the hyper-masculine (though, in this case, failure-prone) everyman. But the persona is far more palatable than it sounds. Jerry is humble and supremely self-aware, and there is a sweetness beneath the astute, sometimes self-deprecating quips he provides in his wry, nasal deadpan.

Yet he never seems down, and even at his lowest one senses that Jerry is due for a comeback. The opportunity presents itself in the form of an invitation to compete with a young up-and-comer (Harold Moore) for an Olympic berth. The offer isn’t all that it seems -- Jerry’s coach (Tom Quinn, of "The Wire") is using him as an unpaid sparring partner by selling him dreams of redemption on the grandest stage -– but it is enough to get Jerry back in the game.

Once there, he proves a worthy adversary, both in the ring, where he enjoys a fairy-tale resurgence, and in his burgeoning relationship with a sweet but only sporadically available public defender (Heather Juergensen). Jerry’s rise is no more likely than Carolla’s own, but in context it comes as no surprise.

The Hammer applies its familiar formula artfully, buoyed by Carolla’s incisive humor and the contributions of Juergensen (Kissing Jessica Stein) and newcomer Oswaldo Castillo, Carolla’s real-life handyman partner. It doesn’t matter so much that the film’s denouement feels a little too neat when its characters are such a pleasure to watch.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars