Hammerhead (2005)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2018-07-22 05:04

Written by: Monty Featherstone (screenplay) and Howard Zemski (screenplay), Boaz Davidson (story), Kenneth M. Badish (story)
Directed by: Michael Oblowitz
Starring: William Forsythe, Hunter Tylo, and Jeffrey Combs

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

ďI give you...the future of the human race!"

During the course of his nearly 40-year producing career, Avi Lernerís name has become synonymous with action movies. Between stints at Cannon Films and founding his own outfits in Nu Image and Millennium Films, heís been attached to everything from American Ninja to The Expendables, with a bunch of junk in between. Around these parts, we like to remember that some of that junk included a rash of killer shark movies around the dawn of the new millennium, a run that began with the increasingly ludicrous Shark Attack series. By 2005, that chum line had dissipated, leaving Nu Image to search for new ways to stir up a feeding frenzy. Their answer at the time was somewhat radical, though it will feel all too familiar to modern audiences: ďwhat if we, like, totally grafted a shark onto something else?Ē someone wondered aloud, laying the groundwork for Hammerhead, aka SharkMan. Arriving on the heels of Mansquito and Snakeman, this film was ahead of the curve, albeit in an unfortunate way, it turns out: obviously, this wasnít the very first of its kind, but itís easy to recognize it as a forerunner to the type of stuff thatís glutted SyFyís shark movie programming during the past decadeóespecially since it, too, premiered on that very network.

In a remote island lab, a group of scientists led by Dr. Preston King (Jeffrey Combs) toils away on a secret experiment involving a shark. Even when said shark devours a couple of swimmers and chomps down on an assistantís fingers, King presses on, cryptically insisting on the importance of his work. The exact nature of it comes into focus when he invites a former assistant turned rival (Arthur Roberts) and his associate to his lab, where he reveals a shocking secret: his son, Paul, who was thought to have succumbed to cancer, still lives, now twisted into a shark/human hybrid thanks to his fatherís bizarre experiments. Paulís former fiancťe (Hunter Tylo) is horrified at the discovery, especially when King reveals his invitation was just a charade: bitter at how he was treated by his former associates, heís only gathered them to take revengeóif his highly-trained army of mercenaries doesnít kill them, then surely his mutant shark son will finish the job.

Wacky shit, right? To be fair, Hammerhead isnít expressly concerned with rubbing your nose into the absurdity of its premise like so many current films are, which is admittedly nice. If Iím going to endure bullshit, Iíd like for it to be sincere bullshit, at least as sincere as something can be when it involves a killer man-shark capable of stalking its prey on land. Just about any sort of praise you can throw Hammerheadís way has to be similarly couched in the acknowledgement that, hey, at least itís not as bad as modern stuff of this ilk. Since it was released in 2005, thereís still a little bit of a tactile quality to it: where modern efforts tend to feel like glorified, weightless cartoons, this one at least deals mostly in practical effects. Save for a few (brief) CGI shots of the shark itself, the effects arenít a complete embarrassment, meaning most of the filmís (limited) appeal remains intact: people are mercilessly fed to this shark, allowing for chunks of viscera to be recklessly splattered around.

You sense that it could have been a complete embarrassment, though, had anyone committed to actually showing the titular hammerhead. With the exception of fleeting glimpses at various parts of its body, the shark is largely cut around, as director
Michael Oblowitz prefers instead to linger on the carnage. You donít sense that this is done out of any desire to build suspense or preserve any sort of mystery surrounding the shark; rather, itís like nobody really thought it through what it could even look like for a shark to prowl on land. Also one of my primary questions during the movie, itís sadly left unansweredóperhaps for better, perhaps for worse. Certainly, a modern take on this would have no problem trotting out some awful CGI atrocity for its audience to howl at. Here, though, I like to imagine the screenwriters were driven by a smartass impulse without at all worrying about how itíd be realized on screen: ďoh, you think characters are safe by retreating to land? Watch this shit.Ē Oblowitzís only recourse is to hack up the photography, creating the impression of a creature thatís never really seen in full, if only because it makes no goddamn sense for it to exist. Hammerhead operates with a sense of shame, which is absolutely correct.

Also correct: the notion that a movie about a mutant shark hybrid can only be improved if itís also a shoot-em-up action movie. Given Lerner and Nu Imageís background, itís no surprise this happens to Hammerhead. I almost have to wonder if this wasnít a situation similar to several Roger Corman productions, where the King of the Bs would just have some leftover production elements that found their way into new movies just so they wouldnít go to waste. Hammerhead feels like Lerner and company had a bunch of boats, helicopters, machine guns, and extras just waiting to play military goons at his disposal, so it suddenly becomes one of those movies where the bad guys fly around in a helicopter with ď666Ē emblazoned on the side and inexplicably load their boats with explosive barrels, making it easier for our heroes to blow them away. While this proves to be quite a weird, lengthy diversion, itís a welcome one: in truth, Hammerhead is kind of a drag when itís only about a sharkman stalking his prey, so itís perfectly fine when it turns to hero William Forsythe and kindly asks him to liven up the proceedings by blowing shit up. It works out, especially if youíre in the mood to see one of the most laughably obvious rear-projection explosions ever committed to film.

Earning no backhanded compliments is Combs, predictably a delight here as mad scientist Preston King. Imagine, if you will, Herbert West as an even bigger, sniveling asshole who wandered into a Brundle teleportation pod that scrambled his DNA with Vincent Price and John Waters. Combs spends most of the film doing what he can to drag this nonsense to the right plane of absurdity. Heís really the only one operating on the right wavelength for something like Hammerhead, a movie that requires a delicate balance of sincerity and irony thatís revealed in the wry streak Combs weaves through his manic performance. Even though he spends most of the film spouting the usual mad science platitudes about his work being crucial to the survival of humanity, itís a spirited turn that makes the film worthwhile. King is deliriously unhinged in his quest to create a master race of sharkmen, and the screenplay doesnít shy away from the biological intricacies of such an endeavor: not only is this grungy lab full of captive women to carry his sonís shark seed, but itís also teeming with embryos and malformed fetuses from the failed experiments to highlight just how fucked up this whole thing is.

Not that Hammerhead every really rises to the disreputability implied there, though: unfortunately, this is one of those movies that sounds absolutely wild on paper but never reaches its potential. With the exception of Combs, the performances are uniformly uninspired (even Forsythe seems to be pretty bored), and Oblowitz doesnít really have enough resources at his disposal to find the Z-movie schlock appeal here. It goes without saying that exploring the existential horror of a man persisting on unnaturally as a shark is completely off the table, too: Hammerhead doesnít have any time for that kind of shit, not when itís the type of movie thatís building towards a money shot involving liquid nitrogen and a sharkís splattering head. Ambition is clearly not a priority, taking a backseat here to the explosions, cleavage, and gore--I'd say that Hammerhead might come the closest to realizing what it might have looked like if Andy Sidaris made a killer shark movie, but that's overselling it.

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