Welcome to our new “The Soft Spot” category. This category is designed to highlight box office flops and oft-hated movies that, to us, have a special place in our hearts and minds. Kinda like guilty pleasures but without the guilt.
Hudson Hawk (1991)
Cost to make: $65 million. Box Office returns: $17.2 million.
The early 90’s were a funny little time for action flicks. Ahnuld, Stallone and the other action stars were in their prime and lo and behold a new star would rise in the genre—Bruce Willis. After starring in a romantic comedy TV show, Moonlighting, he started his successful film career in a little-known action film called Die Hard. Then he voiced a baby in Look Who’s Talking before starring as John McClane again in Die Hard 2: Die Harder. His action star was just beginning to rise. And apparently his draw was enough for some producers to listen to him when he had this story about a master cat burglar because then he made this action comedy with Danny Aiello, Hudson Hawk.
I will always defend Hudson Hawk. I don’t really know what people hate so much about this irreverent and wacky comedy. Maybe they assumed it was supposed to be a serious action/adventure/crime movie. No way—it’s strictly a comedy and never supposed to take itself seriously. It stars Sandra Bernhard for crying out loud!
While not a spoof per se, it does pay homage to James Coburn’s earlier spy movies (In Like Flint). After all, Coburn also stars in this as a CIA agent. It has a wacky espionage plot of recently paroled cat burglar, Eddie “Hudson Hawk” Hawkins (Willis) getting tangled with the CIA and the mafia to retrieve/steal certain Leonardo DaVinci artifacts for criminal masterminds, the husband & wife team of Darwin & Minerva Mayflower, to construct another grand DaVinci mechanism that turns lead into gold. YES, it’s a wacky plot that frankly sounds very Indiana Jones and also DaVinci Code (that book wasn’t published until 2003, so maybe Dan Brown was a Hudson Hawk fan as well?).
What makes Hudson Hawk so endearing to me is mainly its charm and tongue-in-cheekiness. Like I said, it never takes itself seriously and is mostly played for laughs and even has a slapstick-like quality to the action. The CIA’s agents are nicknamed after candy bars like, Butterfingers, Almond Joy and Kit Kat. The Mafia crime family’s surname is Mario making them the Mario Brothers. Little silly stuff that no self-respecting action flick would do. When on missions, Willis and Aiello synch their exploits by singing (separately) golden oldies like “Swinging on a Star.” There’s a running gag wherein Willis just wants to have a cappuccino and he always fails. The Mayflower’s dog, Bunny, has a hankering for crotch-biting. What did the critics really expect? Were they thinking this was going to be another Die Hard? Again, it stars Frank Stallone as one of the Mario Brothers.
It was directed by Michael Lehmann who also a few years prior made Heathers (I guess he likes the letter “H”) and both films exhibit weird tonal shifts, slapstick humor as well as black comedy and oddball characters all trying to ham it up in front of the camera. But for some reason, Heathers became a bona fide classic in black comedy with its teenage suicide and social commentary; Hudson Hawk missed its mark with its heist gags and screwball comedy.
I’ve always enjoyed Hudson Hawk and found greater appreciation for it in college where me and a roomie watched it many many times. (We watched a lot of oddball 90s flicks many many times) The chemistry between Willis and Aiello was great. I think this was my introduction to the great Richard E. Grant as well, who plays a very hammy villain. He even tells Willis in their introduction: “What can I say, I’m the villain.” So that’s a prime example of the film being self-aware of its wackiness.
It’s a fun flick and if you go in watching it with the right frame of mind, it could be rather enjoyable on multiple levels. Is it smart? Not by a long shot. Its plot is convoluted and confusing as well as having very in cohesive scenes and bad continuity. Sometimes the jokes fall flat and the actors try too hard to be funny but even after all these years I still enjoy it.