At some point in its life cycle, a bad movie becomes a cult classic. When exactly that becomes the case is unclear; the moment a film crosses over from being just downright bad to being so bad its good is an indistinct line. Somewhere beyond the line, somewhere in cult classic territory lies the 1991 Bruce Willis feature, Hudson Hawk.
Directed by Michael Lehman, the movie tells the story of a cat burglar, Eddie “Hudson Hawk” Hawkins (Willis), who has just gotten out of prison. On his way out the door, he is approached by his parole officer, who wants him to do one last job. Hawk, trying to go straight, refuses. However, that same night, Hawk is pushed into doing the job by the mob.
While the job goes down without a hitch, soon afterward Hawk's life falls apart. Hawk and his partner, Tommy Five-Tone (Danny Aiello), stole a wooden horse crafted by da Vinci from an auction house, but despite successfully completing the job, Tommy and Hawk read the next day in the paper about how the caper was foiled and the horse will be auctioned as planned.
Going to the art auction, Hawk ends up continuing down a path that quickly finds him kidnapped and brought to Rome. In Rome, Hawk learns that the original heist was requested by Darwin and Minerva Mayflower (Richard E. Grant and Sandra Bernhard, respectively). The husband and wife pair are billionaires with a penchant for insanity. Their current scheme, of which the theft of the horse was but one part, is for world domination.
The basic outline of the Mayflowers' plan is to devalue the price of gold. The horse that Hawk stole was crafted by Leonardo da Vinci, and within the horse lay one part of a crystal that had been split into three by the Master himself. Once the crystal is reunited and placed in a machine created by da Vinci (which, amazingly, is still operational), ordinary lead can be changed to gold. The Mayflowers, Hawk finds out, wish for him to steal the other two parts of the crystal.
Threatened with death by the Mayflowers and a branch of the CIA, headed by George Kaplan (James Coburn), who happens to be the man who got Hawk arrested years ago, Hawk finds himself with little choice for the time being. Eventually, everything becomes more clear to Hawk, including the fact that Tommy was in on the plan from the beginning, and that the woman that Hawk is falling for, Anna Baragli (Andie MacDowell), who works for the Vatican, is also a nun.
Before the end of the film, Hawk saves the day, destroys the machine, and defeats all who have done him wrong (save Tommy, whom he forgives nearly instantly). Plus, his charm and wit manage to win Anna away from her service to the Lord.
The story is incredibly far-fetched, full of massive plot holes, horrific jokes, and more than one loud explosion. At one point Hudson Hawk finds himself racing down the highway on a hospital gurney, grabbing exact change from his pocket, and tossing it into a toll basket just in time for the bar to go up and let him pass.
Perhaps one of the reasons the film has become a cult classic, outside of the ridiculous screwball comedy aspects, is Bruce Willis and Danny Aiello singing songs like “Swinging on a Star” and “Side by Side” during their heists. Perhaps, the reason is that throughout the whole film, Hawk only wants to get himself a nice cappuccino. Maybe it's just Sandra Bernhard's presence.
Whatever the reason for the film's achieving its cult status, and despite the film's over-the-top humor and plot, it can still be a fun trip. There is nothing intellectual (or pseudo-intellectual) about it, and thinking only hurts the ride. Willis, Aiello, Bernhard, and everyone else in the film seem to be having a fun time, so why not the audience too?
Assuredly, there is nothing deep about the film, and at times it comes awfully close to the bad movie side of the divide. For many people it probably even crosses the line, but if bad screwball comedy, and silly action are your thing, it's worth checking out.
The new “Special Edition” release of the film includes, among other things, deleted scenes, a director's commentary, and a trivia track (as subtitles). Sandra Bernhard also recorded a new 10 minute piece in which she talks about playing Minerva, and there is a discussion between Willis and Robert Kraft (with whom Willis developed the story for the film) about their friendship and the movie.
No one who appears in Hudson Hawk could possibly believe it to be their best work. Yet, it is the type of film that will always have a devoted, if small, fan base. It's silly, it's ridiculous, and depending on who you are, can be a decent 100 minute diversion.
Either that, or you'll hate it.