Ah yes, Hudson Hawk. Rarely has a movie been so bitterly and savagely vilified, not only by critics, but even by many of the people involved in making it.
In fact, long before the film opened, in 1991, there were brutal reports in the press about problems on set, with suggestions that star and co-writer Bruce Willis – then at the height of his early-career fame thanks to the Moonlighting TV series and the first two Die Hard movies – was letting his ego run wild on set, with the film’s director Michael Lehmann (who was himself a hot property after making the acclaimed 1989 film Heathers) sidelined as a result.
It’s certainly true that the movie was one big vanity project for Willis and his pal and co-writer, musician Robert Kraft and that the film that emerged from the troubled shoot was somewhat uneven.
And yet, I’ve always had a soft spot for Hudson Hawk.
It’s far from perfect but no way on earth is it half as bad as the hatchet-job reviews that met the film’s original release would suggest. In fact, it’s very funny, if you can tune in to its off-the-wall humour.
Indeed, that wackyness – along with the fact that, whether it was warranted or not, Willis provided the Press with plenty of ammunition to let them take him down a peg or two after his meteoric rise to stardom – was a big part of the problem for the film. You see, it was marketed as a Die Hard-style action movie when, as anyone who has seen the film knows, it’s actually a surreal, slapstick comedy.
In fact, it’s almost Pythonesque at times. For example, at one point master thief Hudson Hawk (Willis) and his partner in crime Tommy “Five Tone” (Danny Aiello) jump out a upper-floor window to escape their pursuers and then we cut to them simply landing on chairs in the next scene.
Like I said, it’s certainly an uneven film. It’s funny, it’s hip and it’s pretty smart, dealing in a Da Vinci Code-style conspiracy long before Dan Brown made such a thing flavour of the month. Willis and Aiello make for charismatic (if admittedly slightly smug) heroes and there are some pretty impressive stunts and action sequences. It also has some notable co-stars, including James Coburn as a corrupt CIA agent and a pre-NYPD Blue David Caruso in a very small supporting role.
On the downside, Grant and Bernhard were two of the most annoying (and not in a good way) villains ever to grace to big screen. And Andie McDowell as an undercover nun, who at one point impersonates a dolphin… well, the less said about her the better.
Hudson Hawk was a massive box-office flop at the time and “won” several Razzie awards. However, the film has gradually built up a cult following over the years and is now no longer universally hated. It is is even, according to Willis in an interview on the latest DVD special edition, in profit.
I started this blog entry by saying that I’ve always had a soft spot for the film. And, in a funny way, it holds some special memories for me of a certain period of my life.
I saw it twice on the big screen when it was first released in 1991 (admittedly the second time was more by accident than design due to a breakdown in communications during a night out with pals) and therefore probably personally contributed half its total UK box office take.
And I remember, in the early 90s, haunting a few USENET newsgroups (going by the net nickname Kerr Avon) and, in particular, the CINEMA-L LISTSERV group, trying to convert non-believers to the cult of “Hud Hawk” – which helped while away many enjoyable hours in a job (my first after leaving university) that I hated.
But enough of the nostalgia, here is the film’s signature scene, in which Willis and Aiello carry out one of their trademark heists, which require split-second timing – but rather than use stopwatches to synchronise themselves and keep on schedule, they like to utilise the rythm method…