Bruce Willis plays Eddie Hawkins, a notorious cat burglar nicknamed Hudson Hawk. Having spent the last ten years in prison, he's eager to make a fresh start. But almost immediately after he's released he's co-opted into stealing a priceless horse statue by his old buddy Tommy (Danny Aiello) for a couple of loud yuppies – the Mayflowers (Richard E Grant and Sandra Bernhard). The Mayflowers pressgang him into stealing two further objects that have hidden inside them parts for a secret gold-making machine invented by Leonardo DaVinci. And at every turn James Coburn and his team of weird CIA agents are trying to catch Hawk and make him work for them instead.
Honestly, it's really hard to call judgement on this flick. On the one hand it is excessively loud and self indulgent but on the other hand it's incredibly anarchic and bursting with witty ideas. People thought Schwarzenegger was brave doing Last Action Hero, a film that parodied his on screen persona but arguably Bruce Willis is more brave doing this, a similar parody of action films that doesn't necessarily call attention to the fact it's parodying action films.
I can't think of another film that I've enjoyed and hated in equal measure. At the time it was released, a lot of the backlash was due to the fact that it was billed as a straight action film but really it's like a violent, swear-y live-action cartoon. The set design and over-the-top acting feel like they belong in kids film. But the swearing and explosions make it look like a film for adults. Thus to fully enjoy it you've got to be able to tolerate both kids films and action films and enjoy watching them mashed together.
The film moves at a breakneck pace, literally Hawk is flung from one scene to the next with little time to comprehend what's going on and who's who. The pace both helps and hinders the film. It helps because if one scene doesn't work, the next scene might. But it also makes it really hard to take in the gonzo free-wheeling plot. Bruce Willis gives a quite charming performance as Hawk but the film could have done with giving him a little more time to let us catch his witty one liners (which alternate between great and groan out loud). The worst performance definitely comes from Richard E Grant, who plays the eccentric Darwin Mayflower. Shouting lines and gurning wildly, like he's in a school play - he really brings the whole film down.
According to the credits Bruce Willis and Robert Kraft contributed the story and it really shows. There's a lengthy sequence in which he and Aiello croon along to the entirety of “Swinging on a Star” while they are pull off a heist. As we all now it was around this time that Willis released the album The Return of Bruno. Kraft was the producer of that album and I think if this film proves anything, it's that actors and record producers shouldn't write plots for movies.
I can quite see where this film went wrong. Kraft and Willis wrote an amateurish outline for a movie about a singing thief. Then Joel Silver, an action film producer hired Steven E De Souza (who wrote Commando and Die Hard) to turn it into an action film about a singing thief. Then Michael Lehmann was hired to direct and obviously got Daniel Waters, who wrote the darkly comic Heathers for him a few years earlier, who added an extra layer of quirky humour. So what you get is the finished film which is actually three films all vying for attention. It's like going to KFC, Burger King and Pizza Hut and buying a full meal from each and then trying to eat a chicken double cheeseburger, dipped in special sauce with pizza slices instead of buns!
Okay, enough analogies. Is there anything that works about this film? Well, yeah, a few. David Caruso is pretty funny as a mute CIA agent called hitman who constantly imitates people, the music is nice and the bare bones of the script seem interesting, if a little thin. The whole globe trotting heist aspect reminded me a lot of the Japanese anime Lupin III – whose most famous feature film was Castle of Cagliostro. I don't know if that character was an influence but there's a huge amount of similarities.
So, did Hawk deserve to flop. Yeah, as much as I like little elements it's a Frankenstein picture, stitched together from disparate parts. I can admire it from a distance for trying to break the mold of 90s movies, a lot of them felt very interchangeable and too generic, but it tried to do it by accident rather than careful planning.