Monday, 4 April 2011

The Film I Always Go Back to: Hudson Hawk

This post is brought to you by the Kid in the Front Row blogathon.

Kid commanded me to write a post about a film with a special place in my heart. In his words:

"It's probably not your all time favourite film or the one you mention at party's, but it's the one you make your friends watch, or it's the one you throw on after a messy break up. Whatever it is -- I want you to write about that film you've watched 64 times even though it only has a 3.2 rating on IMDB. That film that SPEAKS TO YOU when you need to be spoken to. We all have one of those films."

I have many, but which to talk about?

The "Star Wars" trilogy, particularly ESB? The "Indiana Jones" trilogy, particularly "Last Crusade"? "Fellowship of the Ring"? "Back to the Future"? "The Deer Hunter"? "Wall-e"? The Burton and Nolan "Batman"s? "Tremors"? "Blade" or its first sequel? "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang"? "The Last Boy Scout"? "Forrest Gump"? Any of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" flicks? "Fight Club"? "Ace Ventura"? "Dumb and Dumber"? "Jaws"? "Napoleon Dynamite"? "School of Rock"? "Evil Dead II"? "Duck Soup"? "Candyman"? "Heathers"? "Shaun of the Dead"? "Apocalypse Now"? "Edward Scissorhands"? "The Princess Bride"? "How to Train your Dragon"? "Aladdin"? "The Lion King"? "Beauty and the Beast"? "An American Werewolf in London"? Any of the "Monty Python" films? And OH GOD IT HURTS MY BRAIN.

So I decided to focus on a certain aspect of Kid's brief. The bit about the low score on IMDb. There is a favourite film of mine which is terminally derided in most circles. A film which I saw at a relatively young age, before I was aware that you weren't supposed to like it.

"Hudson Hawk".

"Hudson Hawk" was a flop and a critical failure upon its release in 1991, confounding audiences and its own publicity team by being an absurd comedy adventure instead of a typical Bruce Willis actioner. In fact, it is renowned as one of the most expensive and high profile flops ever, dismissed as a misguided Willis vanity-project and a waste of celluloid.

I wasn't aware of this hoopla when I watched it on video when I was about ten or eleven. I hadn't even seen "Die Hard" by this point, and had no idea who Bruce Willis was. I stand by the judgement I made then.

"Hudson Hawk" is a fucking brilliant film.

It follows Willis as Eddie, the titular Hawk, a cat-burglar just getting out of a long stint in jail. He gets blackmailed into returning to his old ways and soon finds himself embroiled in a labyrinthine plot involving the Vatican, rogue CIA agents, billionaires bent on world domination and Leonardo DaVinci.

I think Dan Brown based his entire career on this movie.

The thing that Brown missed, however, is that you can't play a plot this ludicrous straight. "Hawk" is one of the silliest big-budget adventures ever made, hanging its absurd twists and turns on an almost dreamlike structure where Eddie can leap off a building and literally land in the next scene in a completely different location, wearing a look that suggests he is as aware of the ridiculousness as we are. Where he can roll from an action scene on a hospital gurney into a waiting group of badguys, get knocked out, put in a box and wake up in another country.

The film is rife with inspired silliness: Vatican agents communicating via intercoms hidden in light-up crucifixes, CIA agents named after candybars, a pair of gangsters called the Mario brothers, and the ingenious gimmick that Hawk and his partner Tommy time their heists by singing swing standards of which they've memorised the runtimes.

The scene where Eddie and Tommy rob a museum whilst singing "Swinging on a Star" is the kind of thing that, had it been in a straight-up comedy or spoof, would've been lauded as genius. It takes place in a Bruce Willis film which he helped develop, however, so it is dismissed as an indulgence by the star who was dabbling with a career as a singer at the time. This doesn't stop it being fucking funny.

James Coburn (the "Flint" films being a big influence, apparently) plays a brilliantly twisted CIA defector, delivering lines such as "God, I miss Communism. The Red Threat, people were scared... the agency had some respect, and I got laid every night" with glee, but it is Richard E. Grant and Sandra Bernhard as the villainous Mayflowers who really steal the show.

Grant plays Darwin as a slimy, swaggering, gleeful pervert, and Bernhard essays Minerva as a loud, obnoxious, childish pervert. Together, they shred the scenery like a couple of pantomime dames, Bernhard in increasingly outlandish costumes and Grant often literally climbing all over the set.

They are ably assisted by a script full of quotables, with each character spouting one-liners and witticisms too numerous to recount here. Just have a look at the IMDb quotes page and marvel at the sheer breadth of clever stupidity spat out in this film.

Willis and Danny Aiello as Tommy share an effortless chemistry as they bicker like a married couple and croon their way through burglaries and gunfights, but Andie McDowell does bring the tempo down a little bit as the wet-blanket love interest. She makes up for it with a fearless bit of drug-induced idiocy, however.

All in all, it's basically like a Dan Brown conspiracy story made by the Marx Brothers. I genuinely believe it just confused people upon its release, being too sweary and violent for family audiences, but too silly and childish for Willis' usual action crowd. Micheal "Heathers" Lehmann has barely directed since.

If you haven't seen it, do, if you have (and didn't like it) give it another shot.

I leave you with my highlights of the movie:

The aforementioned "Swinging on a Star" heist.

The entire ambulance/gurney sequence: the needles in the face, "ew, menthol", "Hey, Mister! Are you gonna die?", "Exact change?!"

"The Pope warned me never to trust the CIA!"

"Bunny, ball-ball!"

The entire paralysis scene.

"You won't be attending that hat convention in July!"

The Pope watching "Mr Ed".

And Pokie the elephant.


  1. This sounds ace. Make me watch it please! Thanks.

  2. I watched it, and I must say that this was so corny, and really goofy. But a camp classic indeed! Good Stuff!

  3. I love this ridiculous goddamn movie and am so glad I'm not the only one. Someone has to love the silly-ass Bruce Willis movies out there!! Great post :D

  4. I have watched it, and I thought I liked it, but then the world told me I shouldn't like it, now you're telling me I should like it, I CAN'T TAKE IT ANY MORE!

    Added to Lovefilm list. Nice one.

  5. Jess: I will.

    Dan: Word.

    Sugar: Knew I could rely on you.

    Suit: Fuck the world! Follow your heart! Etc.

    Cheers for comments!

  6. The first time I watched it, I thought it funny, and I thought it more a comedy movie with a popular actor on it.
    I would skip it every time I see re-runs on HBO. I have never watched comedy movies twice, unless it's as meaningless as some of Jack Black's movies or starred by the new breed of SNL comics. But let me give this movie a fresh perspective given your post here. I think I would enjoy it now on a re-run. Cheers!

  7. so what, like a feature length Moonlighting, nice. Not. Read Withnail's autobiog., daily rewrites, vainglorious stars, ineffective director, and just.not.funny. Watch Something Wild instead.

  8. Psycho: Hope you enjoy it!

    Anon: I didn't think Grant had a nice time on it, doesn't stop him being brilliant in it, though. And I'm not prepared to take advice on what's funny from someone who uses a "not" joke.

    Thanks for commenting!