March 18, 2008 / 12:38 AM / 10 years ago

Radio's angry man unveils sensitive side in film

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Even the world’s angriest man has a tender side.

<p>Radio host Adam Carolla takes off his head phones during a commercial break during the Adam Carolla morning radio show at KLSX studios in Los Angeles, California, August 8, 2006. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok</p>

Los Angeles-based syndicated radio humorist Adam Carolla, blessed with an uncanny ability to fault everything from first-class air travel to lazy Americans during a broadcast career spanning more than a dozen years, is branching out into romantic comedy with his first big film.

“The Hammer,” which opens in about 10 markets on Friday, is the semi-autobiographical tale of an underachieving construction worker, played by Carolla.

Think Bart Simpson at 40. He returns to the one thing he was good at, amateur boxing, and ends up competing in the Olympic trials. Along the way, he snags a classy girlfriend who is charmed by his mordant wit and doesn’t even seem to mind that he has no money.

There aren’t too many complications in the fast-paced 90-minute story, which was based on an idea by Carolla and fleshed out by his friend, TV writer Kevin Hench. But critics have warmed to the low-budget film, comparing it favorably to another underdog boxing tale, “Rocky.”

BITTER BUFFOON

Hollywood largely ignored Carolla’s project every step of the way over the last four years. Executives either doubted his ability to act, or their ability to market the “difficult” movie. Carolla is angry again.

“People look at me as a misogynistic, ogreish buffoon who goes through life bitter and spewing venom and so on,” Carolla, 43, recalled in a recent interview with Reuters.

“The reality is there’s a very nice tender side to me, and I knew I could act, and I knew I could play the romantic lead. Evidently nobody was aware of that but me.”

Except, perhaps, New York-based filmmaker Eden Wurmfeld. She produced the 2001 indie hit romance “Kissing Jessica Stein” and embraced Carolla’s concept.

It seems an unlikely pairing. Carolla made his name co-hosting the syndicated radio show “Loveline” with Dr. Drew Pinsky, during which he would berate the hapless callers. He currently hosts his own syndicated radio show in Los Angeles and several other West Coast cities in the morning slot previously occupied by shock jock Howard Stern.

He and fellow comic Jimmy Kimmel also co-created the Comedy Central sketch series “The Man Show.” It was infamous for featuring busty women jumping on trampolines.

“When I was reading the (‘Hammer’) script for the first time, every page I’d turn I’d be like ... ‘is the girl on the trampoline gonna be on this page?,”’ Wurmfeld said. “And it was just never there. Here was this absolutely, comical, heartwarming, great story.”

After the studios rejected the script, Wurmfeld went ahead anyway. She recruited “Jessica Stein” director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, who happens to be her brother. One of that film’s leads, Heather Juergensen, who happens to be Hench’s wife, came aboard as Carolla’s love interest.

“The Hammer,” backed by about $1 million in private funding, was filmed in Los Angeles in summer 2006.

After a well-received world premiere at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival in April 2007, Carolla was certain the studios would realize the error of their ways and compete to distribute the film. Again, nothing.

Apparently the film was too good, played too broadly to all demographics, and therefore would be difficult to market, Carolla said.

So Carolla, who is a carpenter in real life, is personally paying about $300,000 to release the film. He hopes his fans will flock to the movie.

He views the film as a respectable calling card that will allow him to avoid the Hollywood treadmill the next time he comes up with an idea.

“The part where the movie makes money or has some success or turns into some sort of cult phenomenon, that would be icing on the cake.”

Reuters/Nielsen

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