HUDSON HAWK

Hudson Hawk

HUDSON HAWK (1991)

“Catch the excitement. Catch the laughter. Catch the Hawk.”

IMDB Rating: 5.4 / 10

The Godfather (1972), it can been posited, is a perfect movie partially due to the fact that through some magical cinematic kismet, every single person involved in the making of the film happened to be at the very top of their game for that one glorious project. No one involved had ever been that good before and arguably, no one would ever be that good again.
Hudson Hawk is therefore the anti-Godfather.
The plot, which, thankfully doesn’t use up a huge chunk of the running time, is pretty uncomplicated. Though utterly barking. An ex-con cat burglar (Willis) looking to go straight, is drawn into a plot by a government agency and a pair of mad-as-bicycles billionaires to half-inch a trio of Leonardo Da Vinci’s greatest works. Hidden within each of them are the parts needed to make up the Great Master’s greatest invention which, apparently, will be the perfect weapon in an attempt to corner the world’s gold market and achieve world domination.
Even filtered through nearly 20 years of hindsight, enduring a viewing of Hudson Hawk remains a breathtaking, enervating experience. It’s a confused mish-mash of failed ideas and misguided intentions, a bubble-and-squeak of opposing tones and styles all churned together, fried up to within an inch of its life and served up for the audience with a greasy splat. And you’re not leaving the table until you’ve cleared your plate.
Unlike the frankly preposterous alchemy-themed Macguffin which drives the slim narrative, the constituent pieces which make up Hudson Hawk fit together about as effectively as a Ukranian self-assembly wardrobe. Everyone involved clearly thinks they’re in different films. If only they thought they were in the same different film the results might have been less challenging.
Bruce Willis
HUDSON HAWK: A bird inthe hand…craps on your wrist

 

Bruce Willis thinks he’s in a wise-cracking knockabout comedy – after all, he’s wearing a porkpie hat.
Danny Aiello is attempting to play the lead role in a jocular hardcore action movie.

Andie MacDowell seems mostly befuddled but, in fairness, was a very late replacement for an actress who was injured during the first week of shooting. It’s also possible the ship had already hit the iceberg by the time she was dragged onboard. Plus the machinations of the plot see her (a nun) choose Bruce Willis over her Lord and saviour – try and emote that on camera and see how far you get.

Andie MacDowell
“Bless me Father for I have sinned. It’s been 18 years since my last good movie”
James Coburn doesn’t quite seem to know what’s going on but at least he doesn’t feel the need to unleash his Aussie accent from The Great Escape- which provides the viewer much needed relief. 
Richard E Grant and Sandra Bernhard are the only cast members who come out of the film with the vaguest sense of enthusiastic, camp dignity. They at least appear to be on the same page – although they might possibly be reading opposite sides of it.
Richard E Grant Sandra Bernhard
What fun! What fun?
What seems clear is that the “creative forces” behind Hudson Hawk were at loggerheads from day one. Tales from the Rome set of hasty rewrites, stroppy performers and escalating budgets have become legend in Hollywood folklore. But while this kind of backbiting tittle-tattle has plagued many a production, it’s hard to think of an example where its effect is so evident on screen.  Re-watching this  fetid turd sees the viewer emit so many Ehs?…Ers…and Ums, they could be memorising a foreign alphabet.
 
Infantile comedy sits awkwardly on the lap of gruesome deaths, extreme violence and language that would make a Tourettes sufferer blush. Characters seem to change motivation shot-to-shot and scene-to-scene. It feels like – and personal accounts seem to bear this out – that decisions were made depending on what seemed to be most fun way to spend the day. Thus we are treated to the bizarre spectacle of Danny Aiello miraculously surviving a grim, explosive and fiery death that doesn’t just demand the suspension of disbelief, it demands that disbelief be overpowered, trussed and dangled from the roof of the CN Tower.

 

The official Hudson Hawk  computer game. Captures all the thrill of the movie.

 

The entire film is drenched in a self-important smugness that compels one to destroy something beautiful. For some reason, unfathomable to man or beast, Willis and Aiello have foregone the use of wristwatches on their heists, preferring instead to measure the passage of time by singing old school standard musical ditties. This makes no sense either practically or stylistically. What it illustrates is the aching car crash that will ensue when the movie’s lead actor is:
a)                 A superstar.
b)                 An insufferable egomaniac. (Um..allegedly).
c)                  Convinced that he is a worthy successor to Sinatra, Martin,Davis Jr et al.
d)                 Possessed of all the musical ability of a tone-deaf mountain goat.
Hudson Hawk
“Under the boardwalk. Boardwalk”

 

Hudson Hawk cost its studio somewhere in the region of $65M to make – Tri-Star was forced to liquidate and sell up to Columbia Pictures shortly after the film’s release. Factor in marketing, advertising and publicity and the true cost probably wouldn’t have received much change from a hundred million dollar bill. Studio accountants – not exactly the straightest of arrows at the best of times –would put its disastrous takings (a dismal $17.2M in the US) down to box office competition in the form of Terminator 2, The Naked Gun 2 ½, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, Backdraft and City Slickers. However, if your film even gets out-grossed by Jean Claude Van Damme playing dual roles in Double Impact, (tagline: “Together They Deliver”), then you’ve a star vehicle that’s seemingly being driven by an octogenarian crackhead.
The movie sounded a death knell for the ego-driven, high-concept, big-budget excesses that had defined the 80s, and forced those involved in the production, as well as the studios, begin to reassess their working practices – it’s no coincidence that Bruce Willis was starring in Pulp Fiction within 3 years, Twelve Monkeys within 4 and The Sixth Sense only after 8.
For most in Hollywood,the film remains a cautionary tale. 
For the bad film fan, Hudson Hawk soars like an ostrich chucked off a battlement.
Trailer: Under the bored Hawk. Bored Hawk.

2 Comments

  1. Matt says:

    Read Richard E. Grant’s “Withnails” film diaries. He depicts the making of Hudson Hawk to be almost as batshit crazy as the finished product. When making it, there seemed to very much be a general feeling of “what in the name of fuck are we making?” and “Where the hell is Bruce Willis?”.

  2. sean says:

    “it’s no coincidence that Bruce Willis was starring in Pulp Fiction within 3 years, Twelve Monkeys within 4 and The Sixth Sense only after 8.”

    His participation in ‘Sixth Sense’ has nothing to do with this, it’s largely based on a completely different film which did even worse.

    Long story short, Bruce Willis put up his own money to make a movie called ‘Broadway Brawler’. Reportedly, he spent somewhere between ten and twenty million dollars on it. And the production was badly falling apart [think about it like this; 'Hudson Hawk' got released... 'Breakfast of Champions' got released... 'Broadway Brawler' was considered unreleasable halfway through shooting]. He managed to cut a deal with Disney where Disney would essentially buy him out and he’d get all of the money back. But he owed them three movies.

    The first two movies were the biggest movies he’s ever been involved in, ‘Armageddon’ and ‘The Sixth Sense’. (The third was ‘The Kid’ which, while not a huge hit, did better than a lot of Willis movies in the build-up to it had done.)

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