Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh

A combination romantic comedy/inspirational sports tale inspired by comedian Adam Carolla's pre-show business life, THE HAMMER is a pleasant surprise. It's genuinely funny, oddly romantic and surprisingly engaging for what could easily have been an obnoxious vanity project.

At 19, LA native Jerry "The Hammer" Ferro (Carolla) was a Golden Glove winner who appeared to have a bright future in profession boxer. On his 40th birthday, he's forced to face the stark reality of how little he's done with his life: Nothing. He's an unlicensed contractor who works for a sadistic bully (Christopher Darga)… make that worked. He and his best friend, sweet-natured Nicaraguan immigrant Ozzie (Oswaldo Castillo), just got fired for playing a prank on the boss. He picks up a little cash teaching boxing classes for the masses at a local gym, has a crummy apartment, and his about to lose his exasperated girlfriend, who's sick of working double shifts to make up for Jerry's fecklessness. Then fate steps in: Jerry is sparring at the gym when arrogant pro Malice Blake (Jeff Lacy) slugs a heavy bag right off its mooring. "Who hangs a heavy bag with toggle bolts?" Jerry sneers, prompting old pro Coach Bell (Tom Quinn) to offer him $100.00 to step in the ring with the outraged champ. Jerry is taking a hell of a beating when to everyone's surprise – including his own – he flattens Malice with a lethal left hook. Impressed, Bell comes to Jerry with a proposition: He nurturing a pair of Olympic hopefuls, cocky light-heavyweight Robert Brown (Harold House Moore) and deeply religious bantam weight Victor Padilla (Jonathan Hernandez), and since Jerry never turned pro he could conceivably qualify as well. If he were to lose 15 pounds and start training seriously – the Southwest Regionals in Phoenix are only a couple of months off -- Bell is willing to take Jerry under his wing. And as if that weren't enough, Jerry begins a tentative but promising relationship with public defender Lindsay Pratt (Heather Juergensen). It all seems too good to be true, even allowing for the odds against success and the temperamental Brown's relentless, mean-spirited needling.

Carolla was already well into his 30s when TV's The Man Show launched his comedy career, and really was a boxing instructor and construction worker; maybe that's why he and co-writer Kevin Hench managed to offset the screenplay's formulaic elements with a certain air of weary reality. And perhaps the long-term relationships between the key players helped foster the movie's air of loose camaraderie: Hench and Carolla are longtime collaborators (The Man Show, Too Late with Adam Carolla), producer/co-star Juergensen is Hench's wife and Charles Herman-Wurmfeld was her director on KISSING JESSICA STEIN –. However it happened, it's a modest, low-key charmer.