Title: Hudson Hawk (1991)
Director: Michael Lehman
Cast: Bruce Willis, Danny Aiello, Andie McDowell, Sarah Bernhard, Richard E. Grant, James Coburn
Sometimes we like a movie even though everybody else thinks its crap, and Hudson Hawk is one of those movies for me. Lambasted by critics when it was first released, Hudson Hawk was deemed “unspeakably awful” by Rolling Stone magazine and “implausible” by AMC Film Critic; to that I say “where’s your sense of humor people?” Yeah it’s silly and over the top, but when was that a sin? Last time I checked there’s room in the universe for films like this; in fact, sometimes it’s exactly what I need to watch. Bruce Willis was part of the group of writers that were responsible for the film; that’s right my friends, Bruce Willis partially concocted the story for this film. The film was such a horrendous flop that Willis never dabbled in the script department of any film ever again. The thing is that I perfectly get what Bruce Willis wanted to convey with Hudson Hawk, I get the vibe, I get the style of comedy, I get the tone of the flick, what I don’t get is why other people don’t find it as entertaining as I do! Really this movie is tons of fun!
Eddie Hawkins a.k.a. ‘Hudson Hawk’ is a master thief who has just gotten out of jail. He’s done his time, it’s over, he’s out. Problem is that he is such a great burglar that the minute he steps out of jail, he is immediately offered an irresistible job to steal a famous work of art from an auction house. The piece? None other than Davinci’s ‘Sforza’. And so the tale unfolds, soon Hudson Hawk learns that the ones who want to steal these famous works of art are the head honchos of a corporation known as Mayflower Industries; a corporation run by two genuine whackos know as Darwin and Minerva Mayflower, a husband and wife duo who want nothing more than to destroy the very economical foundations of society! So once Hudson Hawk realizes what the deal is, of course, he has to stop these two power hungry megalomaniacs.
So Hudson Hawk is the kind of movie that doesn’t really care much for logic and reason, it simply wants to be fast paced, tell a couple of jokes and one liners along the way, maybe put a smile on your face and finally entertain ya. This isn’t Shakespeare and it never tries to be; this is a heist movie tinted with a little bit of adventure and sprayed with a little bit of gangster film shenanigans for good measure. You see, Hudson Hawks best buddy is a guy called Tommy Five Tone, the owner of a bar where gangster go to talk shop, eat and drink. Cool part is that Tommy Five Tone is played by Danny Aiello and what says “gangster movie” more than Danny Aiello right? There’s a group of actors out there who always end up in gangster movies because they have that Italian gangster face and Aiello is one of them. So anyways, Tommy Five Tone runs this bar, but on the side he sometimes organizes a heist or two, and Hudson Hawk is his right hand man. Here’s an element of the film that lets you know how lighthearted it is: Tommy and Hawk pull off their heists while singing Bing Crosby and Paul Anka songs! They actually time their heists to however long the song lasts. The chemistry between these two characters is one of the elements that keeps the movie entertaining, the one liners, the jokes, the funny back and forth. Listen carefully; the subtle word play is hilarious on this one. I mean, one of the crime families in the film is named The Mario Brothers!
Calling this movie implausible, as a critic called it is simply stupid, because plausibility is not something I look for in a movie like Hudson Hawk, in fact, in this kind of tongue in cheek movie, plausibility is the last thing on the list. On this kind of movie you get the complete opposite, which is why I enjoy the elements in Hudson Hawks that border on fantasy, I like the over the topness. I like seeing Willis pulling off a heist while singing ‘Swinging on a Star’. I like how the fights and the action where pulled off in a cartoonish fashion, it at times feels like you’re watching a Three Stooges short. And speaking of over the top, out of all the performances, Sara Bernhard’s ‘Minerva Mayflower’ stands out as the most over the top character of all! Bernhard has been a comedian for many years, even performing to sell out crowds in Broadway. I remember her the most from her role in Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy (1983), a film in which she played opposite Robert DeNiro and Jerry Lewis. On this one she is loud, intimidating and larger than life. It is obvious she relished playing the lead villain. As a suggestion, if you feel like checking out the special features, check out this really funny featurette in which Bernhard explains how she loved playing Minerva, its hilarious!
The film was directed by Michael Lehmann, the same director behind such films as Heathers (1988) Airheads (1994) and Meet The Applegates (1990), here he does a good job, in my opinion the film has slick production values, they even shot some scenes in Rome which was pretty cool. Unfortunately for Lehman, Hudson Hawk was shot down from the skies, it was a bomb, probably because it was a very misunderstood film. It was marketed as an action adventure film, and so people were probably expecting something along the lines of what they’d seen Willis successfully pull off in Die Hard (1988) and Die Hard 2 (1990) and so that probably caught people off guard. They weren’t expecting a goofy, cartoonish action/comedy, heist movie, they wanted more of John McClain! Instead they got John McClain via The Three Stooges, not a bad combo if you forget all about expectations!
Just how cartoonish was this film you ask? Well, during some of the fights you’ll hear cartoon sounds, just like you’d hear in those old Warner Bros. cartoons that’s how cartoonish this movie was! The fights? Very slapstick in nature, usually, the main characters will be in peril, but everything turns out good in the end, it’s that kind of movie. I say that if they had marketed the film for what it was, it wouldn’t have disappointed audiences and it might have had a chance. When released in theaters, it was marketed with the tagline “Catch the Adventure, Catch the Excitement, Catch the Hawk!” which suggests it’s a full blown action flick. Yet, after the film tanked, they switched the word “Adventure” for “Laughter” for the films Home Video release, but by then it was too late. My take on it is that audiences don’t like to be lied too. I’ve seen this happen with many other movies, the first one that comes to mind is Nicholas Cage’s Vampires Kiss (1989) which was marketed as a comedy, but was actually a dark, weird film. Lesson for Hollywood: don’t lie to your audience just to get their butts in the theater, your film will suffer for it. Now here’s The Film Connoisseur telling it like it is, now you know what kind of movie Hudson Hawk is, go check it out, you’ll more than likely have a good time.
Rating: 3 ½ out of 5