To his credit, Bruce Willis has weathered his share of ignominious setbacks during his career. There was The Bonfire of the Vanities, there was Breakfast of Champions, there was Color of Night. Last Man Standing was one of only two movies I have ever walked out of in my entire life (the other was David Lynch’s Lost Highway). I’m not even counting Rob Reiner’s North, a movie that elicited one of Roger Ebert’s most famous negative reviews. I say “to his credit” because it shows that he gets out there and tries stuff; for a big movie star Willis is adventurous in his choices, which include stuff like The Fifth Element, which has all of the earmarks of a fiasco but totally works. I’d never want to be critical of an actor for trying something different.
But on the subject of Hudson Hawk, Bruce, enough is enough. Hudson Hawk was a comedic heist-conspiracy caper (with songs) from 1991 with a colorful cast that included Willis and Danny Aiello as wise-cracking and occasionally crooning burglars, James Coburn as the head of the CIA, Andie MacDowell as an undercover nun, Stefano Molinari as Leonardo da Vinci (yes, really), and—probably the best things in the movie—Richard E. Grant and Sandra Bernhard as a megalomaniacal husband-and-wife team hell-bent on “world domination.”
It flopped, but did so in an attention-getting way, earning $17.2 million on an initial investment of $65 million (in 1991 dollars). (In the video below, Willis claims that the movie is now in the black.) It’s a lively movie with some serious tone problems that’s jammed with head-scratching moments and a byzantine plot that left many viewers contemplating a whiplash lawsuit. Truth be told, Hudson Hawk is a lazy movie. It’s the source of Willis’s only writing credit—check IMDb—and had its origins as a playful inside joke with co-writer Robert Kraft back from the days when neither was much of a player in the industry (Kraft spent most of the last 25 years as head of Fox Music). This has meant that Willis (unlike with Color of Night or North) has taken the debacle personally. It really bothers him that people didn’t appreciate his attempt to set up a whimsical Hope-Crosby-style franchise for the ‘90s.
The one thing that Hudson Hawk isn’t is bland, and that quality of misguided spark has meant that the movie has its share of fanatics (one of my closest friends defends the movie passionately), which is, you know, fair enough. That percolating fan interest has allowed Willis to redefine the movie as some kind of “cult hit” that was “ahead of its time,” both of which premises I reject. Hudson Hawk has a vibe unlike any other movie, and I appreciate any failure that is able to be this distinctive. But for most moviegoers, the movie remains a puzzlement.
For a featurette on the “Special Edition” DVD, Willis and Kraft sat around in a recording studio musing on their memories of making Hudson Hawk; the approximately half hour-long session is completely geared to be their defense of the movie. It’s very peculiar footage. Kraft sits at a piano and occasionally tickles the ivories—you’ll learn more about Kraft’s background as a working musician in the 1980s and the NYC bar scene of the same era than about the movie.
They tell aimless stories, Kraft plays a song or two (with Willis chiming in on vocals). At some point around the end of the second video below, Willis spends a couple minutes defending the movie, but his inarticulate defense is every bit as lazy as the movie itself:
You know, lookin’ at how it kind of became this cult film, and what people come up and say to me on the street about it is, they dig the fact that it was making fun of itself, that it was satire, and I don’t think anybody got that when it came out, they didn’t know what to make of it, me and Danny Aeillo singing in a movie was just unheard of, and people were mad about it or something, they were mad that we were trying to make them laugh.
What this video reeks of is entitlement. Willis and Kraft are both highly successful men in Hollywood and their friendship and loyalty to each other, which are laudable, they seem blinded as to the silly fiasco that Hudson Hawk truly is. They don’t seem to realize that in his opening statement, Kraft pretty much cops to the fact that the movie was a vanity project (Willis: “Someday I’m gonna make Hudson Hawk...”), the kind of project a big movie star does because he can. Furthermore, all these winsome stories about the germination of the idea for the movie don’t function, because you guys ain’t Steven Spielberg and Hudson Hawk ain’t a beloved classic—it just ain’t.
Willis’ impatient smirk is his signature as a movie star, but here that same facial tic suggests his arrogance. YouTube user skinwalkerxxx nailed it when he wrote (amid a sea of comments attesting to the film’s brilliance as one of the undisputed highlights of Willis’s career), “WTF are they really proud of the movie?”
More after the jump, plus Siskel and Ebert’s review of Hudson Hawk…