The "Rocky" formula has been recycled in many different arenas, but "The Hammer" might come the closest to matching the tone of the original "Rocky."
The film hardly could be credited with breaking any new ground, but it has a hangdog charm, much like its leading actor. Adam Carolla, who also provided the original story, stars as Jerry Ferro, a construction worker who has just turned 40 and feels his life slipping away.
He was an amateur boxer years ago, and he teaches a boxing class at a local gym. When a promoter spots him, he invites Jerry to compete for a spot on the American Olympic team, and Jerry sees a chance to redeem himself.
The movie, which has made the rounds on the festival circuit, will never become a blockbuster, but it will please audiences who manage to catch it.
The movie benefits from unpretentiousness; it never takes itself too seriously. The script by Kevin Hench actually has a lot of snappy dialogue. Jerry is more of a wit than Rocky Balboa, and he enjoys trading barbs with his co-worker Ozzie (Oswaldo Castillo), as well as his fellow boxers. Director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld ("Kissing Jessica Stein") isn't much of a visual stylist, but he keeps the action moving swiftly, and he works smoothly with the actors.
Carolla exudes relaxed masculinity, even when he's playing the schlub. You warm to him because he refuses to swagger. He has a deft way with a one-liner, and he's generous in allowing his co-stars to share the spotlight. Heather Juergensen, who had a leading role in "Jessica Stein," plays a scrappy public defender whom Jerry woos. Her rapport with Carolla is infectious. Castillo is delightfully funny as Jerry's Nicaraguan cohort, and Harold House Moore glowers convincingly as Jerry's truculent boxing rival who becomes (too predictably) his ally. As the crusty trainer who initially encourages Jerry and then schemes to dump him, Tom Quinn brings brio to a stock part.
As a narrative "Hammer" is slightly undernourished. There aren't enough complications as Jerry makes his way to the Olympic trials. The boxing scenes are competent but not as pulverizing as one might hope. However, the seedy Los Angeles locations are well caught, and the song selection is winning.
Like the original "Rocky," the movie ends with a defeat that is really a victory, and this low-key finale proves to be a lot more satisfying than the bombast that infects most sports movies. If "Hammer" doesn't quite pack a wallop, it's a funny, engaging, loping journey along the sidelines of the sporting life.
International Film Circuit
Ace Carolla Entertainment, Eden Wurmfeld Films, Bentley Filmgroup
Director: Charles Herman-Wurmfeld
Screenwriter: Kevin Hench
Story: Adam Carolla
Producers: Eden Wurmfeld, Heather Juergensen, Eric Ganz
Executive producers: Adam Carolla, Steven Firestone, Gregory Firestone
Director of photography: Marco Fargnol
Production designer: Mickey Siggins
Music: John Swihart, Matt Mariano
Co-producer: Kevin Hench
Costume designer: Abigail Nieto
Editor: Rich Fox
Jerry Ferro: Adam Carolla
Lindsay Pratt: Heather Juergensen
Ozzie: Oswaldo Castillo
Robert Brown: Harold House Moore
Eddie Bell: Tom Quinn
Victor Padilla: Jonathan Hernandez
Malice Blake: Jeff Lacy
Mike LeMat: Christopher Darga
Nicole: Constance Zimmer
Running time -- 90 minutes
MPAA rating: R