Tuesday, March 2, 2010

HUDSON HAWK (1991) - 4/5 stars

Hudson Hawk 6
Release: 1991
Director: Michael Lehmann
Writer: Steven E. de Souza and Daniel Waters (screenplay), Bruce Willis and Robert Kraft (story)
Cast: Bruce Willis, Danny Aiello, Andie MacDowell, James Coburn, Richard E. Grant, Sandra Bernhard, David Caruso
Soundtrack: Michael Kamen & Robert Kraft
Claim to fame: Razzie award nominee, major box office bomb, largely considered the biggest flop of Bruce Willis' career, has now achieved cult status
Rating: 4/5 stars

"If the Mario brothers weren't New Jersey's third-largest crime family, I'd say, 'Kiss my ass.' But considering your status, I will say, 'Slurp my butt.'"

Movies often say "there's two kinds of people in this world," but there's only one kind of person who will enjoy "Hudson Hawk": those who love nothing more than watching Bruce Willis mug it up for the camera for 90 minutes. And yes, I count myself among them - so you can't peg my 4-star rating on a momentary lapse in reason. And this love of all things Bruce tends to grow tenfold if we're talking about movies from the late 80's and early 90's, when nobody played a smarmy tough guy better than him (see also: "Die Hard," "The Last Boyscout"), before "The Sixth Sense" turned him into the go to guy for "soft spoken, deeply wounded" roles.

Granted, I still love Bruce's movies these days (I even paid to see "Surrogates" in the theater) but there's nothing like back in the day when Bruce had at least a tuft of hair and a smartass comeback to every situation he encountered. And "Hudson Hawk" is pretty much the ultimate in Bruce Willis smartass comebacks.

Hudson Hawk 2

How could you give this face a Razzie?

And yes, I am talking THE "Hudson Hawk," that Razzie award-winning critical disaster and box office bomb that hampered more than a few careers. Bruce's didn't really recover until he starred in "Pulp Fiction." Director Michael Lehmann went on to do "Airheads" and (shudder) "My Giant" before being relegated to TV work. And screenwriter Steven s. de Souza…wow, what a story this man has. What a fall from grace. You'd think anyone with their name on the screenplays for such massive 80's hits as "48 Hrs." and "Die Hard" would be pretty much untouchable in Hollywood, but Souza's career in the 90's is a how-to guide to royally screwing yourself.

After riding high in the 80's, he managed to lose it all by penning a string of the absolute biggest flops that the decade ever saw: "Hudson Hawk," "The Flinstones," "Beverly Hills Cop III," "Street Fighter" (which he also directed), AND "Judge Dredd." DAMN! Any writer would rather take fifty lashes than have one of those movies on his filmography, let alone ALL of 'em. I'd almost feel sorry for the guy except I've sat through "Street Fighter" and "The Flinstones." Strangely enough, it's a story we see play out often - see my review of "Broken Arrow" for how "Speed" screenwriter Graham Yost managed to derail his career with several post-"Speed" flops.

Hudson Hawk 7

Bruce enjoyed working with you on "Die Hard," Mr. de Souza,

but he really has to question your judgment on that "Street Fighter" flick

But in a way I'm here to throw up a defense for Mr. de Souza because I, for one, can find a lot to love about "Hudson Hawk." Once you get past a truly ill-advised, ill-fitting prologue featuring Leonardo Da Vinci that plays during the opening credits (if your Bruce Willis movie goes for 5 minutes or more without us seeing Bruce, then you have serious problems), the film hits the ground rolling and rarely lets up.

Bruce plays Eddie "Hudson Hawk" Hawkins, a career thief and cat burglar. He's the best at what he does - there's just one problem: he doesn't want to do it anymore.

After spending 10 years in jail, he's released on parole. But everybody - and I mean everybody (his parole officer, his best friend, New Jersey's mob bosses, the C.I.A., and an eccentric millionaire couple) - want him to pull off a few more heists, which will coincidentally unlock the secrets of Leonardo Da Vinci's lost alchemy machine. Cue the over-the-top 90's hijinks.

Hudson Hawk 5

Bruce Willis riding an early 90's "extreme" skateboard? Oh man, I'm in heaven!

And yet people (most people) don't like this movie. I'll tell you why: it was ahead of its time. "Hudson Hawk" offered a parody of a genre that America didn't care to see parodied yet. They were still in love with the real thing! "Die Hard 2: Die Harder" was a hit just the year before and they were ready for another dose of hard-boiled Willis action. Sure, there's action in this movie but it's more of the "big stunt variety" - Bruce Willis flying through traffic on an ambulance gurney and at least 3 or 4 scenes of characters leaping off of balconies (sometimes with explosions behind them). Funnily enough, Wikipedia claims that Sony changed the movie's tagline from "Catch the excitement! Catch the adventure! Catch the Hawk!" to "Catch the adventure! Catch the laughter! Catch the Hawk!" when it premiered on VHS.

I compare "Hudson Hawk"'s failure at the box office to a similar movie: "Last Action Hero." In their own ways, they offered loopy, Loony Toons-esque parodies of big-budget action movies. The problem is that they both had high production values (higher than necessary, I'd say, in the case of "Hudson Hawk") to provide the public with the explosions and spectacle they expected, thus leading to a major loss of money for the studio when the films tanked.

Both of them were co-written by guys that intimately knew the genre and helped popularize it - Souza for "Hudson Hawk" and Shane Black (the man who wrote "Lethal Weapon") for "Last Action Hero." Both failed to resonate with the public, who still expected their action stars to deliver un-ironic quips and maintain a straight face for the camera. "Hudson Hawk" and "Last Action Hero" both let the audiences in on the joke - that multi-million dollar action movies are often ridiculous - but instead the audiences suddenly felt like the joke was on them.

Hudson Hawk 3

Where else are you gonna see Willis/Caruso antics?

What's so great about "Hudson Hawk"? Bruce Willis wears a t-shirt with a vest, for one thing. Not only does Bruce manage to have a sarcastic comeback or rubberfaced reaction to nearly everything that happens in the movie, he also seems to be blessed with the same mutant powers as the obscure X-Men character Longshot, in that he has exceedingly good luck. Every time Bruce is getting blasted out a window, he lands practically on his feet (or sitting comfortably on a streetlamp). He's always able to make the perfect shot with a rope or escape from harm's way to be back in time for a dinner date. There's one transition early on in the film that is so abrupt - Bruce literally goes from falling to his death to being seated in a lazy chair - that I did a double take and wondered if some crucial scene had been spliced out of the movie.

Bruce Willis and Danny Aiello partake in their criminal heists while performing synchronized show tunes together, with Bruce's real singing voice (I know what you're thinking: how could this movie have possibly won any Razzies?!). There are two Italian mobsters called the Mario Brothers and other video game references - pretty impressive for a 1991 film. The film features two incredibly over the top villains, a neurotic Richard E. Grant and Sandra Bernhardt with the obnoxiousness factor cranked up to 11.

Hudson Hawk 1

Richard E. Grant and Sandra Bernhard are certifiably...insane

There's a group of CIA agents who are all named after candy bars (Snickers, Butterfinger, Almond Joy, etc.) and they're led by James Coburn, who at one point adorns purple camo and does kung fu. The only thing that Bruce Willis wants the entire movie is a good cup of cappuccino after being in the joint for 10 years. Throughout the entire movie, he is denied the simple pleasure of that cappuccino, whether it's somebody shooting a bullet through his cup or slipping drugs in it. Hey, it's hard not to relate to a character when all they want is a decent cup 'o joe! And then there's the one-liners. Oh, the one-liners. I'll put it this way: they're near constant and nearly put "Tango & Cash" to shame.

Hudson Hawk 4

All he wants is a cappuccino!

Bruce Willis starred in two movies in 1991: "Hudson Hawk" and "The Last Boyscout." Both films performed below expectations at the box office but have since developed cult followings. And while I have to cite "The Last Boyscout" as the better film, thanks in large part to the cynical edge of Shane Black's ("Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang") script…I cannot deny the unique appeal of the Hawk. Unfortunately, it seems like one of those instances where Hollywood set themselves up for disaster. The early 90's marketing scheme claimed the movie was the latest action blockbuster from producer Joel Silver ("Lethal Weapon"), when it really has more in common with Loony Tunes than it does "Die Hard."

I'd wager that more money than necessary was spent on the movie, seeing as how the entertainment value comes from the guffaw-worthy dialogue and eccentric characters, not from any expensive explosions or setpieces. Then you've got the video game tie-ins for the Game Boy and Nintendo Entertainment System when the movie is definitely "R"-rated, despite some cartoony antics that probably had an unfortunate number of little kids exposed to the flick.

Hudson Hawk 8

An Ebay prize worth its weight in gold

Regardless, "Hudson Hawk" is the kind of movie that people who love bad movies sit down to watch, expecting a turkey of epic proportions, only to find out that the movie is pretty damned hilarious and not without its charms (pending that you're a Bruce Willis devotee). Or…at least that how it was for me. As the saying goes: your mileage may vary. Just keep an open mind - I mean, this is the one movie where the hero escapes from the bad guys with the leading lady, only to ask her to play Nintendo with him. Keep an open mind…and you might just take flight with the hawk.

Hudson Hawk 9

Hey, you don't have to put a gun to my head -

any time you wanna watch "Hudson Hawk," just invite me over

1 comment:

  1. That face! The glasses! The vest! So good. I had actually been told all my life that Hudson Hawk was the worst Bruce Willis movie, and believed it since I had never seen it all the way through. However, after re-watching it I can see that it really is a fun action/comedy. I guess that bad hype really did fuel the speculation for so long...

    It's interesting to see all of those screenwriters with their good movie credits and their bad credits. Man, the transition to the 90's seems like it nearly killed all of them.