Monday Movie: Hudson Hawk, by David Bax
People have said a lot of things about Bruce Willis, most of them unflattering, but we may all be underrating just how much of a grade-A weirdo he is. After the success of Moonlighting and two Die Hard movies, the project he chose to cash his goodwill on was 1991’s Hudson Hawk, a truly bizarre and idiosyncratic madcap heist comedy for which he is co-credited with the story.
What resulted is one of the most infamous flops in movie history. Hudson Hawk, directed by Michael Lehmann (Heathers), bears such a pungently terrible reputation even to this day that it’s basically impossible to resist reconsidering it. Many who have done so–notably those too young to vividly recall the film’s initial, vitriolic reception–have found plenty to enjoy about it. They’re goddamn right, too.
To detail the movie’s dizzyingly twisty plot (some of which was allegedly being written and rewritten during production) would take another 1,500 words. So here are the basics. Willis and Danny Aiello play retired burglars blackmailed into going back into business for a series of heists targeting specific works of Leonardo da Vinci which together contain the secret, alchemical formula for turning lead into gold. Obviously, that sort of thing would be in high demand and so the duo find themselves pursued by idiotic mafiosos (including Frank Stallone), a pair of sociopathically eccentric billionaires (Sandra Bernhard and Richard E. Grant), a team of corrupt CIA agents (led by James Coburn and including David Caruso and Lorraine Toussaint) and a nun from the Vatican (Andie MacDowell). Oh and there are musical numbers.
Perhaps it’s easy to imagine why people were so flabbergasted and appalled that one of the biggest movie stars of the moment would throw himself into a zany hodgepodge of Hope and Crosby routines, Looney Tunes shorts, 1950s B-movies and about a hundred other things, all executed with a wide and wild streak of mean-spiritedness. But, from a distance, it’s hard to see it as anything other than a total blast.