im a mere 30 years old, so i was not around really to experience firsthand bruce willis’ clumsy start and stop with his early career and thank god for it. watching this felt a little voyeuristic. i mean…i feature a lot of vanity projects in things but this is a tragic vanity project. it’s not so deeply embarrassing in its sheer incompetence in the way that many vanity projects are and i think that’s because those tend to be self funded; instead, this whatever-the-fuck movie was a means by which bruce willis got to demonstrate that he was a…renaissance man. as long as the movie allowed him to do x (story), y (sing) and z (act) it could be about whatever.
and it is truly about whatever.
the movie is framed as through we are being read a storybook by a narrator (william conrad) who, with all due respect, must have been told to read his lines after being shown them for the first time. leonardo da vinci, in a classic italian blunder, accidentally invents a machine that turns lead into gold instead of lead into bronze. for no discernable reason, he smashes a crystal used in the machine into multiple pieces. the way the crystal breaks is like, remember in legends of the hidden temple, when they had to put together a statue that was made of multiple pieces? it’s like that. very clean cuts, mr. da vinci.
cut to the modern day, where the narrator informs us that a modern day genius is just getting out on parole: a man named…hudson hawk.
hudson hawk was a cat burglar…but he’s out of the game…but he’s not. the music during these scenes is wretched. i think its really hard to get across and only bad once you notice it. i didn’t notice how deeply unpleasant it was for the first time until the scene after this one, but because i’m watching it again for a THIRD time (don’t ask) i’m noticing all the background music and it’s like someone’s chasing me around the room crinkling a little ball of tin foil in my ear. it’s like…what videogame noir music sounds like. it’s point-and-click adventure music. this is fitting, since our hero wears both a fedora AND a vest.
this was ’91, they didn’t know any better. we have to forgive them. he also has four piercings in one ear, which at the time was literally the coolest thing anyone could have or do.
hawk’s parole officer tries to rope him back into a life of crime, but hawk turns him down. once on the outside, a loud noise scares our intrepid and noble hero so he immediately panics and curls into a little ball like a baby. its okay though, its his annoying best friend: tommy “five-tone” (danny aiello). tommy “five-tone” brought him a cappuccino and buddy, let me tell you a little somethin’, hudson hawk really just wants to drink a cappuccino. that’s the wacky running gag in this movie. hope you like it because you’ll see it a lot. hope its your favorite.
willis has this bizarre inflection he puts on his sentences where he screams. that’s not an inflection i guess. or maybe it is. anyway, let me try to impart to you, a person who has probably not seen this movie, what this particular screech sounds like and when it’s activated. i’ve heard bruce willis talk, so i know he knows how to talk like a person, and i know he lived in new york bartending for a while, so i know he knows what a new york city native sounds like. and in spite of having a fairly gravelly voice in real life, willis is purposefully putting on a shriller affectation that, when excited or agitated, rises slowly by oscillating with every word.
“brandy GOAT cheese PIZZA?!”
at his own restaurant (i think), hawk is accosted by the mafia (one of whom is the always terrible frank stallone), who force him to rob an auction house, the same job his parole officer wanted him to do. the music, is bad.
after this we are treated to an excruciatingly long scene where hawk is quizzed by his friend tommy on the lengths of various songs, which he does repeatedly like it’s an impressive trick. hawk is TROUBLED by being forced into this job. “do you think you still got it, eddie?” asks tommy “five-tones”.
“yeah” says hawk. “that’s that i’m afraid of.” pbbbbbtttt!!!
the heist is edited strangely. at some point in the creation process of this movie they decided they wanted to lean toward making it take place in a cartoon-ish universe and, first of all, bad job, and two, in their futile attempt to achieve this goal, they flooded the storybook world of “hudson hawk” with the hanna-barbera sound fx reel. i don’t know if it was intentional, but the heavy use of ADR in this and subsequent scenes feels exactly as cheap as it must have been to do. it’s impossible not to notice how much those guys are in a sound booth somewhere.
willis and aiello then proceed to pull off the most annoying heist in human history. in order to keep time with each other they sing bing crosby’s “swinging on a star” and both of them are fucking dreadful compared to the original, which is already annoying enough. i’ve had it stuck in my fucking head for a week. i’ve been singing it while frying potato chips like a dipshit. they steal the thing, a small-scale replica of a massive statue leonardo da vinci made of a horse, and in a clumsy edit that would have worked in a better movie, they escape from what seems like an inescapable situation. hawk passes the item off to the mafia who hand it off to a british gentleman like its a hot potato who smashes it over the head of hawk’s parole officer. inside….why it’s one of the crystal shards…
after seeing a news headline claiming his robbery was foiled, hawk decides to snoop and infiltrate the auction…with sexy results.
there he meets a hot young woman named anna (andie macdowell) and five video game bosses. two rich freaks (sandra bernhard and richard e. grant) bid for the horse but what’s this!? as the gavel strikes, the auction house explodes. or to be more accurate the gavel itself explodes. the first time i watched it, i thought the auctioneer himself exploded like a bloodless “scanners”. upon realizing this is not the case, i’m really down about this movie now. i feel like i watched a better movie before even if it was by accident.
the mafia shows up in an ambulance and drives off with hawk for reasons (?). none of this part makes any sense at all. what follows is a tortured and cacophonous car chase scene that serves as a vehicle for jokes and one-liners so hackneyed and tired, they make popsicle sticks look like the algonquin round table.
thankfully once its over the CIA or something like it puts hawk to sleep. thank god! not a moment too soon. sadly its not permanent. they only send him to rome where his secret employers, the mayflowers (the weirdo couple from the auction house), let their dog (voiced by frank welker, not a joke) suck him off. oh i just realized mrs. mayflower is masha from “the king of comedy” . that’s why i’m confused by her energy she’s bringing here lol. she never quite hits that same terrifying energy scorsese managed to coax out of her. her role isn’t grounded enough in reality. the refusal of “hudson hawk” to commit to either a cartoon universe or a grounded one has resulted in a world where there are no stakes and no threats, yet at the same time no comedy.
its happening again. its the midway point and the movie is starting to lose me. he is in rome and he is stealing another bullshit thing. i’ll have to shelve this for now and try to tackle the enigma of “hudson hawk” again tomorrow.
alright, i’m back.
the main gist and purpose of this scene really is to get the 2nd macguffin into hawk’s hands and let him rendezvous with macdowell, who as it turns out is a secret agent for the vatican working to prevent the mayflowers from making the gold machine. for some reason. i’m not sure why the vatican thinks this is their jurisdiction, but who am i to question the wild and raucous surrealist logic of “hudson hawk“? whatever. this movie is throwing everything at the wall and it’s so half-baked that nothing is sticking.
i guess during this sequence (which i still am struggling to pay attention even with fresh eyes) it would be a good time to talk about how this movie feels like an eerie pale and sickly shadow of “raiders of the lost ark“. once this movie becomes globe-trotting it becomes more evident that they were trying to capture some kind of spirit of adventure that simply cannot and will not be raised. at its core, there is no sincerity to “hudson hawk“. there is only a thin, weak, stringy heartbeat of cynical slapstick that sputters to life occasionally with a piercingly unpleasant sound or dialog. for example:
anna: it’s funny. that excites me. i seem to have a thing for sinners.
hawk: well, i seem to have a thing for sinning! check please!
hudson hawk, who got his name because a hawk is a cold wind that blows over a river and the hudson is a river uhhh somehow that relates i guess. anyway he has a bad tattoo of a hawk too. there is a “joke” here that lands like a fucking thud and i truly want to go back in time and talk to the writers and ask them how and why that one made in there. who’s idea was it? why was this scene added?? i don’t really want to talk about it because it’s quite off-color but i am intrigued in it the same way someone might be intrigued in why a serial killer does things.
at this point the movie has made a grave miscalculation in assuming the audience is full hog ass in on this wild adventure they’ve dragged us along on. the truth is i could not give less of a fuck about the exploits of hudson hawk and that horrible boor tommy “five-tone”. i hope they both fall in a pit of spikes or someone throws a hadouken at them or something.
the movie attempts to drag a series of twists and turns out to keep you “on your toes” by revealing tommy “da salami” “five-tones”‘s betrayal. however, again, this is predicated on the idea that you are invested in the idea that hudson hawk, a man with a haircut i previously thought only ps2 characters had, and tommy “five-tones” (a wretch of the lowest order, a gutter water enthusiast) had a friendship worth preserving. “the only law i cared for was friendship” tommy “five-tones”, the bastard of new york city opines to his friend, hudson hawk, who looks like an uncooked hot dog in a t-shirt, “but i broke that one too didn’t i?”
i don’t know why they dress tommy “five-tones” like a band-aid as well. that’s worth mentioning. some people in this movie get great wardrobes and some get fucked. tommy “five-tones” was cursed to walk the earth dressed like a wendy’s napkin.
hawk and “five-tones” get in a gunfight and fall ten stories onto marble and more or less dust themselves off without a scratch or an acknowledgement that their brains should be scrambled like eggs. the cops roll up and arrest them…and those cops are intercepted by the vatican…and it turns out it was all a ruse, and everyone is still friends and they meet up with anna and whatever. nothing matters. the movie comes to a screeching halt so hudson can make a series of clumsy and WEIRD passes at anna. let me also drag this review to another full stop to try to elaborate on the exquisite lunacy of this scene:
after faking their own death, they are turning in for bed. tommy “five-tones” takes the couch while hudson hawk chomps and whinnies at the bit at the mere excitement of being in proximity to anna. hawk presumes they’re going to “sleep together”. anna assumes he’s also sleeping in the living room because she is a nun.
now that is not the insane part of this, just the framework. it’s the architecture of the set itself. this apartment is an open floor plan. there are no doors. the only thing separating anna’s room and bed from the living room couch is a translucent curtain. was hudson hawk going to just bare ass fuck in front of his friend tommy “five-tones” and if so what does this mean about their friendship. this is NOT the adventure i signed up for. i am glad he strikes the fuck out. thank you anna for saving me from having to face this head on.
the CIA finds them the next morning, paralyzes them, then everyone makes fun of hudson for dating a nun. owned lol. they pulled the heist without hawk so they plan to off him since he’s outlived his usefulness. i am clapping and singing with glee at the idea. anna apparently is still useful because she knows fun factoids about leonardo da vinci. in a world before smart phones and the internet that probably was useful. i take so much for granted. this movie has really made me think…
they survive. two CIA agents die. who cares. do you? what i care about now is that a room full of adult people now demand a woman help them put together this crystal, which, if you remember, i described as being about as difficult as a puzzle designed to confound children under immense stress. in fact it has less parts than that. it’s only three pieces. this is a fisher-price toy that is blowing the minds of multiple people.
naturally of course, during what is supposed to be the climax of the movie, where my blood is supposed to be pumping and my gooses bumping, these fucking assholes start singing “side by side”. another song i liked until they truly, and unforgivingly, start butchering it like it’s sunday dinner. this movie thinks its a musical and tries to incorporate musical elements (a classic being a villain cutting in with the final word of the song; the butler with the literal assassin’s creed knives shows up to menace the dreadful tommy “five-tones”) without uhhh being a musical. there’s only two fucking bad songs in this thing thank god. i wish there were zero.
in a series of mentally taxing and displeasing scenes, hudson hawk is assaulted like a cartoon character by the head of the CIA (james coburn) while tommy “five-tones” reverts to his bestial and primal state by attempting to bite mr mayflower’s face off like a chimpanzee. anna deals with mrs. mayflower because that’s what women do in movies like this. they’re only allowed to fight other women. tommy “five-tones” fucking explodes in a fiery car crash lol. it felt great to see. i loved it.
everyone is captured again. it’s time to make gold.
for some reason hawk is the one who has to put the crystal together again despite the fact that i thought that’s why they kept anna around. reminder: this is my third watch. i still don’t know what’s happening. however, i do know that hawk sabotaged the machine by fucking with the very complicated three part crystal so it explodes. they mayflowers die horribly and face a final boss battle…butler with knives.
the fight with the butler is terrible. after being built up to be a man of elegance and ruthlessness, he’s now sloppy like he’s been personally slighted somehow by the failure of the gold machine. the directing and editing is choppy and they had the audacity to show me one of the most plastic mannequin heads i’ve ever seen and try and tell me it was a human decapitated head. that thing hits the ground and bounces like a superball. 100% rubber.
the fight ends with the decapitation and hawk spitting “[you] won’t be attending that hat convention in july!”
hawk kills the frank welker dog bc anna is so useless she can’t even keep a terrier from jumping on her. they fly away in da vinci’s flying machine and when they land it is swarmed by a horde of italian youths.
tommy “five-tones” didn’t die. even the movie is like “just believe it, okay?” i have no choice. hudson hawk finally drinks his cappuccino. im free. on the way out of this movie i’m reminded we were being told a story in a decrepit old book.
i’m free. i’m free. this movie is like getting peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth.