Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Hammerhead (1987)

Even if you’re into Speedos, those tiny, skin tight swimming briefs that have become synonymous with Eurotrash and body-type-to-Speedo-size inverse proportionality, there is simply no way in Hell you can defend the invention and implementation of the banana hammock.  Like the Speedo, men who really shouldn’t wear banana hammocks seem to wear them more than other people do.  The other side of the coin is that they’re a favorite undergarment of men in the porn industry (not that I would know anything about that), who are usually fit enough to pull them off (pardon the pun).  These types of under clothing simultaneously scream “vanity” and “I couldn’t give a fuck.”  I’ve personally never met a single person who could take a banana hammock seriously, which is why they are typically employed in films to tickle the funny bone (pardon the pun, again).  There’s nothing more hilarious for some people than seeing a thin swath of cotton (or lamé) barely covering a man’s giblets while either their flyspeck-follicled gut and thighs strain to envelope the briefs and/or snap the waistband or the whole pathetic affair sags limply off a some scrawny stronzo’s nethers like soft bread dough stretching from your hand to the kitchen table, threatening a sneak peek between the gaps at any moment.  The latter is sadly the case with “comedy relief” sidekick Jose (Jorge Gil) while improbably romancing the delicious Julia (Donna Rosea, who actually can pull off the French cut bikini look) in Enzo G. Castellari’s Hammerhead (aka Cobra Revenger aka Special Agent Hammer aka Hammer).  At least a viewer’s confoundment at this scenario is paid off later in the film (you really should be able to guess how from the get-go, but that’s neither here nor there), so there’s that.

Hammer (Daniel Greene) is a Miami cop who loves to sleep in late with his dog, and doesn’t play by the rules.  Greg (Jeff Moldovan), an old buddy from Hammer’s days in Jamaica, is killed after coming to the flinty cop for help with some ruffians who are after him.  Hammer heads back to the island to find out who killed his pal and bring them to justice.  And did I mention he doesn’t play by the rules?  Because he doesn’t.

Two things running through this film are ideas of friendship and loyalty.  Hammer, Greg, Jose, and Carlos (Antoni Corone) used to form a team (of cops, criminals, or simply mercenaries, we never know completely) called the Storm Riders.  They are men bonded through violence and machismo, and their influence for the better on Jamaica was widespread, as we learn from some interspersed dialogue.  Together as a team, they were able to enact a positive force.  We never learn why the team broke up (or if we did, I must have missed it), but we know that when the team fell apart, it allowed for flagitious forces to rise up and corrupt the island.  The Storm Riders’ bond, their loyalty to each other, is implied as the core of what they were able to accomplish.  As their leader, Hammer was the obvious lynchpin.  The others took their cues in “proper” behavior from him.  Jose maintains this loyalty into the present to the point that he is almost a lapdog for Hammer.  It’s difficult to take Jose seriously as a man of action for the majority of the film, as he’s played largely as a horny trickster character, though he does prove himself in the back stretch to, in fact, have the qualities that earn respect and prove that Hammer’s ideology is the correct one.  Sans Hammer, the other three Storm Riders don’t measure up.  Without getting into any plot twists, Greg gets in above his head; he can’t deal with his adversity, and he has to come to Hammer for aid.  Carlos is nowhere to be found when Hammer first returns to Jamaica.  Whether dead or crawled into a hole or worse, we don’t find out until further into the runtime (did you guess which yet?).  Jose has become a taxi driver, has eschewed his violent life, and become a “lesser” man for it, a lifeless soul trudging through his days.  Reuniting with Hammer reignites Jose’s zest for a life of conflict, a life of meaning.  Hammer needs to redeem himself for his irresponsibility in leaving the island by returning and once again demonstrating his loyalty to this place and his friends (including, significantly, his ex-girlfriend Marta [the gorgeous Melonee Rodgers] and the daughter he didn’t know he had).

Hammerhead also deals with the past, its mistakes being revisited on the present, and the idea of fate as it affects the protagonist.  Greg comes out of Hammer’s past to remind him of his former life.  His current life is normalized (a dog, a steady job, a boss he butts heads with on a regular basis [we can assume, since, you know, he’s a cop who doesn’t play by the rules and all]).  Realizing that he is obligated by his ties to Jamaica, he returns to a place he once called home, and it’s there that he discovers that he cannot get away from this former life and his responsibilities as a man simply by moving away from them.  Hammer was meant for Jamaica, and Jamaica needs Hammer.  Without him there, the island and his friends fell apart (more or less, or at least were less fulfilled than when he was there).  Hammer’s past is not done with him, and we have the understanding that if it hadn’t been Greg who came to Hammer, someone else would have at some point to reveal his place in this world (after all, without this siren song/call to duty, we wouldn’t have a film at all), and Hammer is man enough to comprehend his destiny and own up to it.

This film is largely unpolished, however it is entertaining up to a point (one thing that can be said about Castellari is that his films [from my experience] never forget that they exist to bring enjoyment).  The filmmakers use a lot of dolly shots and even more slow motion photography, and both bring with them a certain amount of style, to be sure.  The action scenes work, for the most part, because they maintain both a high quality/theatrical flair in the stuntwork and a kinetic dynamism (read: everything is amped up to eleven) in the interpersonal sequences.  This is, unfortunately, undercut by a seeming lack of proper coverage or possibly poor editing choices which give the film a scattershot ambience throughout.  The script is, of course, insanely predictable and loaded with scenes and dialogue untethered from actuality (discounting the heightened reality of the action pieces).  If I had to guess, I would have to say that Castellari wanted to go to Jamaica for a vacation, so he set a film there, shot whatever he felt he needed to shoot there, and then spent the rest of the time kicking back with some fruity drinks on a beach somewhere.  Bear in mind, I’m not against this, but it makes for a slight product that knows all the numbers it needs to hit, knows that we know all the numbers it needs to hit, barely hits them, and then just walks away from it.  Kind of like how Hammer walked away from Jamaica in the first place.

MVT:  The action scenes are good.  I can’t say much more about them than that, honestly.

Make or Break:  The first action set piece includes a motorcycle jumping not one but two cars as well as a car going up on two wheels for a bit.  It’s zany enough to be fun, but not far enough above middling to be all that memorable aside from a couple of individual images.

Score:  6.25/10           

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