In 1991, Bruce Willis was sitting on top of the world. With the help of two blockbuster “Die Hard” movies and the sleeper success of “Look Who’s Talking,” the actor found himself in the enviable position of having anything he desired made without a single, solitary fuss raised by Hollywood suits. Would he make a challenging political picture? A controversial abortion drama? A B&W, German-subtitled surrealist comedy? Nope. Willis made “Hudson Hawk.”Eddie Hawkins (Bruce Willis) is a master thief fresh from a ten-year stint in prison. Swearing off crime, The “Hudson Hawk” is pulled in for a massive job when the scheming Mayflowers, Darwin (Richard E. Grant) and Minerva (Sandra Bernhard), decide to blackmail Eddie into a plan to steal iconic Da Vinci artifacts to help build a machine that produces gold. Now off on a globetrotting adventure with partner Tommy Five-Tone (Danny Aiello), Eddie finds himself entangled in a massive conspiracy that involves the Mafia and the CIA (James Coburn), along with some government stooges named after candy bars and a helpful nun (Andie MacDowell) who finds herself falling for Eddie’s rapscallion ways.
"Really, it's not as bad as you've heard or remember"
I must admit, I was a monster fan of “Hawk” way back in 1991. Being both a desperately young devotee of Willis and believing director Michael Lehmann hung the moon with his 1989 masterpiece “Heathers,” I was primed to see these talents collide. And collide they sure did.
A strange brew of action, adventure, slapstick, science-fiction, and, gulp, musicals, “Hudson Hawk” was a creation born under great duress. The production of the film was a constant pissing match between egos, while the release of the film was a trainwreck, with too much media emphasis placed on the enormous budget (65 million for this movie was insane at the time, now it’s catering on the “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequels) and Willis’s indestructibility, and not enough on the atypical moviegoing experience it offered.
In essence, Willis (who dreamed up with the story with pal Robert Kraft) was aiming to make an R-rated cartoon; a film that would somehow collect the exaggerated sensibilities of the Three Stooges, Indiana Jones, and Hope & Crosby and blend them into a farcical soup, hopeful to generate thrills and laughs in equal measure. It’s a complicated viewing experience, bluntly executed by Lehmann, who valiantly strived to make a silly movie, perhaps letting the slapstick impulses of the script (by “Heathers” scribe Daniel Waters and 80’s action pimp Steve E. de Souza) swallow the film whole. “Hawk” is relentless in its pursuit of absurdity, and that very lust is why it remains a polarizing, but undeniably gusty production worthy of cult status.
Piloted by Willis’s cappuccino-thirsty, permo-smirk performance at the titular cat burglar, “Hawk” coasts on a great deal of chaotic smarm. It’s a caper in the loosest sense, making more room for madcap bumbling around than kinetic storytelling, which often traps the film in the knotted game of double-crosses and twists the screenplay serves up. Making great use of Italian locations and endlessly enchanted with its own sense of humor, “Hawk” is an acquired taste; a picture willing to bring a cocktail party to the doorstep of any viewer who gives it a shot.
While Willis is the star of the show (a truth the film is not shy communicating) special attention must be paid to Richard E. Grant and his berserk portrayal of Darwin Mayflower. A wealthy madman who seems more in tune with his kinky sex life than extravagant plans for world domination, Grant spins wildly around “Hawk” like an accidently dropped roman candle; his every step gloriously over the top in a simple effort to get the film to notice him. Toss in Sandra Bernhard as his wife, and you have two actors who come damn close to stealing the film away from Willis and his bottomless buffet of buffoonery.“Hudson Hawk” nearly destroyed Bruce Willis’s career in 1991, but to revisit the film today, without the blinding glare of his stardom and media ubiquity, reveals a goofball comedy that’s easy to digest. Sure, the picture is riddled with awful jokes, unhinged performances, and direction that lacks direction, but the overall party-like atmosphere of the film is enchanting. It’s a wonderful piece of lunacy that’s separated itself from something of a cinematic pariah to become a delightfully outlandish vanity film, capable of eliciting giggles, groans, guffaws, and gagging frequently in the same fanciful instant.
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originally posted: 11/14/07 04:02:24