Hudson Hawk (1991)

Whatever Hudson Hawk is, it’s not what it started out to be. It’s totally different than the movie Joel Silver wanted to produce and it’s completely different than the script Steven E. de Souza wrote. As Bruce Willis became a bigger and bigger star, he just took over, bringing on screenwriter Daniel Waters to add plenty of strangeness to De Souza’s straightforward adventure tale.

It didn’t even have the same bad guys. Originally, Joss Ackland was going to be the Bond-style bad guy. Then, director Michael Lehmann actually had conversations with Audrey Hepburn before Willis said, “Let’s take the guy from the first draft and the girl from the second and make them a couple.”

Hudson Hawk is really the story of how a small and fun film turned into a $50 million dollar loss for TriStar Pictures. In fact, this was the last movie produced by the company before they merged with the struggling Columbia Pictures. The film lost so much money, Sony had to salvage the companies by purchasing the remaining stock, then reorganizing the company as part of the recently-formed Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Eddie “Hudson Hawk” Hawkins (Willis) just wants to celebrate his first day of parole with a cappuccino, but to get there, he has to deal with his parole officer, the Mario Brothers mafia family and the CIA, all of whom want him to do one more heist.

Finally, he and his partner Tommy “Five-Tone” Messina (Danny Aiello) are forced to comply with Mayflower Industries, which is run by husband and wife Darwin (Richard E. Grant) and Minerva Mayflower (Sandra Bernhard), along with their blade-slinging butler, Alfred (Donald Burton). Their goal is to rebuild da Vincy’s La Macchina dell’Oro, the alchemical machine that converts lead into gold.

There are crystals in da Vinci’s art that will power this machine, as well as a nun named Sister Anna Baragli (Andie MacDowell) who is an operative for the Vatican’s secret intelligence. Also — our heroes use different songs to time out their robberies. Still with us?

That said, It’s hard for me to hate a movie that features James Coburn as George Kaplan, the name of the fake agent from North by Northwest, complete with handcuffs and a phone that emit the same tones as his famous Flint series of films. Or one that has David Caruso as an agent named Kit-Kat (all the CIA guys are named for candy bars).

However, this is a film that proves that there really can be too much of a good thing. The end takes a long time to get there and when it does, you’ll wonder why so much effort went into it.

Hey man — it was the 1990’s and these were the movies people wanted to see. This is the story of ego out of control. Yet the film that gave Willis so much power — he had tested really high with audiences in test screenings of Bonfire of the Vanities — crashed too.

Between the throes of trying to release Meet the Applegates and the way he was treated by Willis on this film, it’s a wonder Michael Lehmann ever directed again. But he stayed with it — he’s been behind several American Horror Story episodes.

BONUS: You can hear Becca tell me how much she hates this movie on our podcast.

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