There’s more than enough in the canon of Jewish humor — from rituals and mores to borscht-belt delivery — to make a balls-out comedy about a Semitic superhero, in the vein of Mel Brooks. Writer-director Jonathan Kesselman’s energetic blaxploitation goof starring Adam Goldberg as the pimp-clad, Caddy-driving private eye of the title — described in an amusing parody of the “Shaft” theme as “a complicated Jew, but no one understands him like his mother” — starts out likably silly. The Jew’s-eye view of Christmas that opens the film has a giddy tang both visually and verbally; Nora Dunn kills in a short-yet-juicy turn as the Hammer’s chirpingly invasive mother, and the way Goldberg flips hilariously between badass and stereotypical neurotic feels original. But the corker-to-groaner ratio heavily favors the latter as the bagel-and-dreidel jokes begin to lose their spark, as does the story: saving Hanukkah from eradication by an evil Santa spawn, played by a tiresome Andy Dick. Kesselman is obviously a diligent student of 100-mile-per-hour comedy, but there’s homage and there’s kitchen sink. There is early Woody Allen in the joke that has Dunn keeping her decrepit cat mercilessly alive, but when Kesselman has it shit all over her, it’s just third-rate Farrelly Brothers. Opening at Laemmle’s Sunset 5, Laemmle’s Playhouse 7 and Laemmle’s Town Center 5.

—Robert Abele


For decades Werner Herzog has obsessively explored the ways in which real people — everyone from the seriously disabled to ski-jumping woodcarvers — endeavor to slip the bonds of material life and locate the sublime. In his latest documentary, Wheel of Time, Herzog looks to the Initiation of the Kalachakra, a sacred Buddhist ceremony, presided over by the Dalai Lama and attended by thousands, that’s meant to set enlightenment into motion. In Bodh Gaya, India, the site of the Buddha’s own enlightenment, and in Graz, Austria, home to a committed Buddhist enclave, Herzog records sights and sounds, and captures some quintessentially Herzogian moments — a trail of pilgrims prostrating themselves over mountain plains and rocky streams; a montage of faces, both rapt and slack, set to the Dalai Lama’s whispered prayers. But for a Herzog documentary, Wheel of Time is surprisingly unfocused. He distills something of the joy of the occasion in smiling faces and boisterous crowds, but his wide-ranging shots and matter-of-fact narration make for something more like a travelogue than a portrait of transcendence. Could it be that Herzog is himself surrendering his intensity to a more Zen-like approach? Wheel of Time hints that such may be the case, but for Herzog, a hint is as good as a miss. American Cinematheque at the Egyptian; Friday–Tuesday, December 19–23. See Film & Video events for schedule and information. (323) 466-3456.

—Hazel-Dawn Dumpert


Exiting a recent screening of Love Don’t Cost a Thing, an audience member decided to see the glass as half full. “I liked it,” he said unconvincingly. “Nobody got shot and nobody got called nigga.” Still, this remake of the 1987 romantic teen comedy Can’t Buy Me Love remains short on charm, purpose or laughs. Alvin (Drumline’s Nick Cannon) is a working-class genius and high school geek who, in a bid to become popular, pays beautiful cheerleader, Paris (Christina Milan), to be his no-sex girlfriend for two weeks. Her friends diss him, he — once he’s popular — disses his old friends, and everyone learns about friendship, honesty and seeing beyond the façade. Writer-director Troy Beyer (B*A*P*S) tries hard to vivify the material — off-kilter camera angles, an attractive and game cast — but is defeated by the script’s moldy notions (shopping spree as path to inner change) and an excruciatingly broad performance by Cannon as both the painfully shy Alvin and the oily playa he briefly turns into. Milan, whose steely professionalism suggests a mini Jennifer Lopez, has a more believably written character arc and plays it well; she’s the poor little rich girl who only needs real love to find the sweetheart within. Opening Citywide.

—Ernest Hardy

LA Weekly