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‘Hudson Hawk’

By Joe Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 24, 1991


Michael Lehmann
Bruce Willis;
Danny Aiello;
Andie MacDowell;
James Coburn;
Richard E. Grant;
Sandra Bernhard
Under 17 restricted

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We're talking "Hudson Hawk," the first major movie of the summer season. And we're talking turkey. Major Turkey.

To say this megamillion Bruce Willis vehicle doesn't fly is understatement in the extreme. After a few whimsical moments (which come before the credits) this Joel "More explosions!" Silver-produced gobbler flaps and flops to oblivion. It's the "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"of the '90s.

The multi-talentless Willis cooked up the story of a cartoonish cat burglar so he could star in it, in apparent hope of aping the success of such comics-turned-movies as "Batman" and "Dick Tracy." But Willis's wannabe doesn't resemble those ultra-art-directed movies so much as it does such '60s series as the sweetly sophomoric "Get Smart."

Only "Get Smart" was funny.

The movie's gently jokey prologue introduces us to a frazzled Leonardo da Vinci, a Renaissance-era Type-A personality who has several masterpieces cooking at once: He's casting his "Sforza" equine sculpture, painting the Mona Lisa (we see why the enigmatic smile), and most important, perfecting an alchemical forge.

Now, alchemy, you may remember, is the archaic pseudo-science of turning garbage into gold. The producers are just begging for wisecracks with this angle.

After the credits, some five hundred years later, we catch up with Hudson Hawk, world's greatest cat burglar, departing Sing Sing after missing a decade of "E.T." and video games. Hawk is determined to retire his fingers and go straight -- in fact, all he wants is a good cup of cappuccino. But it's not that easy -- before he can take a sip, his coffee cup is shot right out of his hand by the villainous Mario Brothers (a nod to Nintendo?).

They, it turns out, are in the employ of the even more villainous Darwin and Minerva Mayflower (Richard E. Grant and Sandra Bernhard, who walks away with the movie on her sensational entrance, supplying its only real comic energy). Blackmailing Willis by threatening the life of his best buddy and business partner Tommy (a pitifully wasted Danny Aiello), Grant and Bernhard enlist Willis's sneaking-and-safecracking savvy to steal three priceless da Vinci objets. But their ultimate goal is (what else?) World Domination.

Perhaps because they are mostly wordless, Willis comes off best in the painstakingly storyboarded "Mission Impossible"-like heist and brawl scenes; elsewhere he gets over by smirking chimpishly. Andie MacDowell, who still hasn't learned how to speak in front of the camera, is a lovely washout as Willis's skittish love interest, who may be working undercover for the Mayflowers, the CIA or the Vatican.

The cat burglar was a criminal type that fascinated filmmakers in the '60s: "The Pink Panther, "Topkapi," etc. But the success of those films turned on the burglar's grace and style. Merely airheaded where it should be lighthearted, "Hudson Hawk" offers a klutzy, charmless hero, and wallows dully in limp slapstick and lowest common denominator crudeness. Shot on location in New York, London, Rome, Budapest, for a budget estimated at upwards of $30 million, "Hudson Hawk" still manages to look cheap. You'll wonder where the money went.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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