Hes big, hes bad, hes the Hebrew Hammer

His neck bears the weight of two huge chai necklaces. His enormous blue Cadillac is adorned with a Star of David hood ornament. His office door proclaims, “Certified Circumcised Dick.”

He’s the Hebrew Hammer, a private eye and defender of the faith who’s the hero of Jonathan Kesselman’s amusing, affectionate send-up of American Jewish peccadilloes and ’70s black exploitation films.

“The Hebrew Hammer” — which has played a few Jewish film festivals, including San Jose’s, since debuting at Sundance in January — airs Monday, Dec. 8, on Comedy Central. It opens theatrically Friday, Dec. 19, in New York, Los Angeles, Miami and other cities where enclaves of Jews are oppressed by the Man. Or, in the nomenclature of this movie, the gentile.

An homage to movies such as “Shaft” and “Superfly,” “The Hebrew Hammer” pits the ultra-masculine Mordecai Jefferson Carver (Adam Goldberg of “Saving Private Ryan”) against an evil young Santa (Andy Dick) who’s vowed to destroy Chanukah. As one would expect, the plot is about as complicated as an episode of the old “Batman” TV series. It’s really just a device to string together wacky scenes, snappy patter and a plethora of sight gags.

“The Hebrew Hammer” is surprisingly good-natured — there are only a couple of savagely funny digs that some will find offensive — and delivers enough chuckles to sustain its 80-minute length. Comedy Central has beeped out the frequent expletives for the TV broadcast, which makes the film more acceptable for the whole mishpoche but also tones down the laughs a notch.

Hammer wears a tallit and has dinner at his mother’s every Shabbat, but he’s a rebel who lives by his own code. Summoned by the head of the Jewish Justice League (Peter Coyote in an eye-patch, doing a bizarre Moshe Dayan impersonation) to discuss the Santa problem, Hammer greets him coolly: “It’s your bar mitzvah, Jack. I’m just reading the Torah portion.”

Hammer turns down the chief’s request to stop Santa, but subsequently changes his mind to spite his mother (Nora Dunn, her voice like nails on a blackboard). Tired of her complaining because her friends’ children are doctors and lawyers while he’s wasting his life, Hammer figures he’ll shut her up once and for all if he saves Chanukah.

His crusade takes him first to his friends at the Kwanzaa Liberation Front (headed by Mario Van Peebles), then to a white supremacist bar called Dukes (presumably in honor of David Duke).

The JJL chief’s daughter, ordered to keep an eye on the Hammer, instantly becomes romantically attracted to him. Their love scene is unlike any other in the history of movies: When Esther (Judy Greer) orders him to talk dirty to her, he begins his soliloquy by whispering in her ear, “I want to have lots of children by you.”

Hammer and Esther catch up with Santa at a department store but, in one of the comedy’s best bits, are forced to flee from hordes of angry children. “Attention, K-Mart shoppers,” intones the disembodied voice over the PA, “Jews in Aisle 6.”

Kesselman takes a couple of pithy potshots at Jewish materialism (although he isn’t above selling Hebrew Hammer T-shirts on the Web site), but he also mocks cartoon and movie superheroes by undercutting the Hammer’s tough-guy poses with a healthy dose of neurosis.

In fact, the Hammer’s secret weapon — against which no one can defend himself — is his whining. This is the one part of his character, unfortunately, that Goldberg doesn’t embrace. When it comes to laying a guilt trip on somebody, he’s a pisher.

Maybe that’s a good thing. Jewish boys, who are the most apt to adopt the Hebrew Hammer as a role model, hardly need lessons in kvetching.

“The Hebrew Hammer” airs 9 p.m. Monday, Dec. 8, on Comedy Central.

Michael Fox

Michael Fox is a longtime film journalist and critic, and a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle. He teaches documentary classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute programs at U.C. Berkeley and S.F. State. In 2015, the San Francisco Film Society added Fox to Essential SF, its ongoing compendium of the Bay Area film community's most vital figures and institutions.