Hudson Hawk (1991) (part 1 of 13)
Note from the editor: In honor of the 20th anniversary of the release of Hudson Hawk, this recap was updated on May 24, 2011 with new screencaps and new snarky comments, thanks to the special edition DVD, available now from Amazon.com!
And look for Ed Harris’ Hudson Hawk Recap Supplement, covering all the DVD bonus features, coming soon!
Is it Agony Booth Mega Recap IV already? Where has all the time gone? It seems like just yesterday that I and several of my brave fellow recappers were coming together to dissect Armageddon, a 150-minute monstrosity that we deconstructed one 15-minute chunk at a time. Who’d have thought that one not-so-simple recap would beget a franchise? Nay, a dynasty?
If you missed the Armageddon recap, and the Gigli Mega Recap, and the Fantastic Four Mega Recap, then where have you been, buddy? You don’t have to be a stranger, you know. Are they working you too hard over there… in that place where you work? Because if you had read those recaps, not only would you have enjoyed some great material, but you’d also already be well versed in how a Mega Recap works.
But, just for you, here’s how it goes: Multiple recappers come together, each recapping a brief segment of a movie. When it’s all done, the segments are stitched together like a Bill Rebane film to become one massive Mega Recap, or as I like to call it, the Voltron of bad movie recaps. It’s the ideal recap for Agony Booth readers who can’t stand a recapper’s endless, long-winded observations about a film. They want to read the endless, long-winded observations of eight people!
All kidding aside, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the hard work of all the recappers who have participated in these things. If you think the simple existence of recaps this long is crazy, then just remember this: nobody gets paid at all for their time and effort, other than seeing their name on this site and whatever kudos you bestow upon them in the forums. (By the way, have you hugged your Agony Booth recapper lately?) It truly is a labor of love for everyone involved, and I can’t thank them enough for making the Mega Recaps some of the funniest movie recaps you’ll find anywhere. If you can find a better Mega Recap on the web, I’ll refund your money, no questions asked!
Here’s a quick rundown of who’s onboard this time. If you’ve been following this site at all, you should know these names:
- Page 2 and 3 are by Jessica Ritchey, who recently recapped The Concorde… Airport ‘79, and participated in two other Mega Recaps.
- On page 4 and 5, we have Steve Pratte, who you might remember from the Fantastic Four Mega Recap this past summer.
- Page 6 and 7 brings us Rori Stevens, who recently gave the Agony Booth a well-deserved savaging of Michael Jackson’s alleged “film” Moonwalker.
- But wait, there’s more! Because on page 8 and page 9 we have our very own Jonathon Pernisek, who also threw in on the Fantastic Four Mega Recap.
- You want more? How about page 10, which brings an appearance by Torgo’s Hand, who contributed a section to the Gigli Mega Recap and also provided innumerable screencaps for other Mega Recaps?
- And that’s not all! Ed Harris boldly takes the stage on page 11 and 12, and he should know a thing or two about bad comedies after recapping the likes of The Wild World of Batwoman. This is his third Mega Recap, after Armageddon and Gigli.
- And finally, there’s me, Albert, bringing this runaway train crashing into the station on page 13.
- Call now, and we’ll also throw in Jason Sartin, a veteran of the Gigli and Fantastic Four Mega Recaps, who this time around is helping out with providing captions throughout this recap.
(And as always, hover your mouse over the pictures in this recap; a tooltip will tell you who provided the caption.)
Now how much would you pay for this Mega Recap of Hudson Hawk? Still nothing? Well, it was worth a shot. So without further ado, Let’s go, Team Agony Booth!
…Actually, there’s going to be a little further ado. You really can’t get enough “ado” in your life, if you ask me.
(NOTE: There’s no way to get an idea of just how bad Hudson Hawk is without seeing Bruce Willis’ endless mugging. That’s why I’ve interspersed small galleries throughout this introduction, which are all part of a large modern art piece I’m working on entitled “The Many Faces Of Bruce Willis As Hudson Hawk”. Or, “I Suffered Through Looking At This Assclown Make Faces, And Now So Will You”.)
If I seem a bit more gushing this time around, it’s because a movie like Hudson Hawk is the very reason why Mega Recaps were invented (by me). Mega Recaps were meant for movies so putrid, so torturous, so overlong that they would drive a single recapper (me, again) to the edge of sanity. I’ve wanted to recap Hudson Hawk for as long as this website has been around, but I could never quite work up the courage to take it on alone.
The main reason I wanted it on this site should be obvious: Its very title is synonymous with terrible, crippling box office and creative failure. It’s a symbol of the very worst that the cinema has to offer. And I can confirm with no doubt in my heart that this film is every bit as awful as you’ve heard. It is brashly, unashamedly awful, so chock full of insanity and pain and nonsense that it rivals even the nuttiest films featured on this site. Yes, even Zardoz.
In fact, the film that Hudson Hawk most closely resembles is the 1987 Bill Cosby atrocity Leonard Part 6. Frankly, the films have so much in common that you really have to wonder if Leonard Part 6 was used as some horrible, twisted template for Hudson Hawk.
Both films feature their stars heavily mugging for the camera in lieu of jokes. Both movies are filled with non-stop, relentless explosions, also in lieu of actual humor. And both movies are under the impression that anything sufficiently bizarre is automatically funny. Unfortunately, my dictionary tells me that surrealism is not the same thing as humor, which both of these films prove in grisly detail.
But most of all, both Leonard Part 6 and Hudson Hawk are glorified ego trips starring two of the biggest stars on TV in the ‘80s, and as such, both films were initially believed to be surefire blockbusters. That is, until they both took a nosedive opening weekend, and their respective stars’ overinflated egos crashed and burned, and both found themselves busted back down to the kiddie matinee rung on the ladder to true movie stardom.
And just like the failure of Leonard Part 6 rests solely on Bill Cosby, so does the blame for Hudson Hawk lie solely with Bruce Willis.
Willis got the idea for this movie, it seems, from a song. “Hudson Hawk”, a bluesy number about a debonair cat burglar, was written by film and TV composer Robert Kraft, who’s probably most famous (and most rich) for co-writing the theme song to Who’s the Boss? (Speaking of which, did that show ever finally tell us who the boss is? I think the final episode should have at least featured Katherine Helmond crushing Tony Danza’s skull under her boot while yelling, “I’m the boss, bitch!” Or something like that.)
The story goes that Willis and Kraft were good friends at one point, and over a short period of time (let’s say, one drug-fueled weekend bender) the two of them took the lyrics of Kraft’s song and brainstormed an entire inane movie treatment around them. Unfortunately for Bruce, this brainstorming session happened circa 1980, and at that point in his career he was just another wannabe actor with a dumb idea for a script.
But fast forward a decade. In that span of time, a private eye romantic comedy called Moonlighting ran for several seasons on ABC, becoming a hit due to the chemistry between leads Willis and Cybil Shepherd. And then there was the box office smash Die Hard, starring Willis as an everyman action star facing off against terrorists.
But most germane to the movie at hand, this period of time saw the release of the blockbuster Look Who’s Talking, which not only starred the voice of Bruce Willis, but also scored a huge windfall for TriStar Pictures. Willis used his clout and his connections from this and other movie hits (including his association with über-producer Joel Silver) to railroad TriStar into dumping $50 million (a staggering amount of money for a comedy in 1991) into his pet project from way back when, a dopey heist spoof called Hudson Hawk.
Unfortunately, the movie’s fate was sealed before it ever reached theaters. Willis demanded—and received—total creative control. Thanks to his out of control ego, the production was a disaster, full of excess and atrocious self-indulgence. Like Ishtar before it, tales of on-set chaos, budget overruns, last-minute rewrites, and personality clashes made trade paper headlines. And the horrible dailies coming in from Europe, where much of the film was shot, weren’t helping the situation.
Mike Medavoy was one of the studio execs at TriStar at the time, and in his memoir You’re Only as Good as Your Next One he describes watching the dailies and immediately noticing the biggest problem with Hudson Hawk: “Everyone in this film seemed to be ‘acting funny’, but no one was funny.” Oh, so very true.
He also noted the film had “three classic problems: (1) the star is the co-writer, (2) the producer is more powerful than the director, and (3) the director had never done a big film.” That director was Michael Lehmann, whose highest profile work prior to this was Heathers, an indie black comedy and perhaps the very definition of a “cult film”. Amazingly enough, Hudson Hawk also shares a screenwriter with Heathers, Daniel Waters, which just goes to show that nothing can kill two guys’ genuine comic abilities like throwing millions of dollars at them.
But what probably played the largest role in this movie’s downfall (outside of Willis’ influence, of course) was a rewrite by Steven E. de Souza, writer of such classics as Another 48 Hrs., The Flintstones, Judge Dredd, and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. De Souza also wrote several episodes of Knight Rider and The Bionic Woman, and helped turn the greatest TV miniseries ever into the most mediocre weekly series ever. Hudson Hawk never had a chance.
The bad buzz and the bad press and the bad reviews sunk this film like a stone. It opened to empty theaters and was gone within a few weeks. That might have been the last anyone would ever hear of this film, but recently—if you can believe it—Hudson Hawk is achieving something of a cult classic status among film fans on the Internet.
This is as good a time as any to introduce what I call Albert’s Law. I’m sure others have put forth this theorem, and probably phrased it better than I’m about to, but I’ve decided to take credit for the idea anyway.
You see, no matter how awful a movie is, it will always have a large, devoted Internet fan base that proclaims the film to be “misunderstood”, “underrated”, “ahead of its time”, and “treated unfairly by the critics”. This is one of the downsides of the Internet: People with insane tastes suddenly discover they’re not alone, and cease believing they’re crazy. No matter if you’re a fan of tentacle rape anime, fake nudes of American first ladies, or Bruce Willis mugging into the camera, there’s a group out there that will welcome you with open arms.
I was astonished and frightened to see the strength of the Hudson Hawk fan base online, because this is the worst big budget comedy I’ve ever seen (trumping Leonard Part 6 only by sheer virtue of being half an hour longer). There’s a good chance my fellow recappers and I will catch some flack for skewering this movie, so before you write in, let me remind you of a few things about Hudson Hawk.
First of all, the plot is an incoherent mess, and it’s glaringly obvious that the script was constantly being rewritten during filming (as bluntly detailed in co-star Richard E. Grant’s movie diary, With Nails). Here’s a movie that expects us to believe agents of the Vatican would help a cat burglar steal and destroy priceless Da Vinci artifacts. Already it’s sounding like a bad episode of Alias, but this movie piles it on: Organized crime bosses, CEOs of corrupt corporations, and the CIA are all after this movie’s MacGuffin. I’m surprised the Department of the Interior, the IRS, and PETA don’t get involved at some point.
Secondly, the whole cast is awful, but special notice must be given to Andie MacDowell in the role of Willis’ love interest. Reportedly, she was a last-minute replacement for Isabella Rossellini, who had “scheduling conflicts”, and French actress Maruschka Detmers, who had “back problems”. (Let’s appreciate the many ways to say “the script sucks”, shall we?) That should have been a sign right there, but yet we’re forced to endure Andie mumbling blandly and wandering through this film like the third-place and third-rate choice she is.
MacDowell originally rose to fame a couple of years prior in Sex, Lies, and Videotape, and it’s not hard to see why: Her monotone delivery perfectly suited her detached monologues about kinky sex. But put her in a situation where she has to depict an actual human emotion, and she’s instantly way in over her pretty head.
In addition, nobody in Hudson Hawk has anything resembling real-world motivations. A character even explains his actions by shouting, “I’m the villain!” Self-referential fourth wall breaking is fine, but if you’re going to do that—and I can not stress this enough—it has to be funny. And as my fellow recapper Jessica Ritchey said in one of our email correspondences about this film:
And that, of course, makes this movie’s disregard for the rules of storytelling all the more torturous. Hudson Hawk’s defenders will have you believe it’s a wild, zany cartoon, so none of those pesky little nuances like continuity, common sense, or suspension of disbelief should even matter.
But when it comes to cartons, frankly, Tom and Jerry have way more personality than anyone in this film. And Tom and Jerry shorts may be funny, but would you really want to sit through one that went on for nearly two hours?
When a movie completely gives up on continuity, or the notion that one scene should actually, you know, lead to the next, why should anyone in the audience care about the story? And why should they even bother trying to follow a stupid, murky, nonsensical plot like this?
And last, but not least, let’s all take a moment to remember this is a movie that features Bruce Willis incessantly mugging for the camera, as shown below:
If you’ve read all this and you’re still not convinced of the historical badness of Hudson Hawk, then the next thirteen pages should make you a believer.
Before we finally get started, a quick tip of the hat to this film’s large group of Repeat Offenders: Bruce Willis, James Coburn, and Frank Stallone are all making their second appearances in the Agony Booth. Also reappearing here to provide vocal effects is Frank Welker, who provided the snake noises for Anaconda, and also, as I just now realized, vocal effects for Godzilla, so he now gets to be a retroactive Three Strikes Offender!
And don’t worry. Producer Joel Silver shall be added to the pantheon of Repeat Offenders soon enough. [And that did indeed come to pass. —2011 Albert]
Now let’s get to it!