James Bond. Indiana Jones. Adored by women and admired by men. And now, with Bond losing his license to kill, and Jones having embarked on his last crusade, the world awaits a new kind of hero. Not one who carries the emotional baggage of Batman, or a nearly unstoppable alien such as Superman, but a real man, with real flaws. Ladies and gentleman, Hudson Hawk.
Bruce Willis plays Eddie, a suave cat burglar who just finished his ten-year sentence at Sing-Sing. Eddie is known as the Hudson Hawk, a name derived from his hometown near the Hudson River and his hawk-like swiftness. Get it? Hudson River, Hudson Hawk. He has a unique way of practicing his craft: he sings. Rather than using a watch to time his work, Eddie sings a song. He picks locks, figures out the combos to safes, and overrides security cameras, all while crooning songs like “Swinging on a Star.”
Immediately after his release, he is blackmailed into stealing a DaVinci artifact by the Mario Brothers (one of many Nintendo references), two members of a powerful New Jersey crime family. Eddie and his slightly overweight (and sensitive) partner, Tommy Five-Tone (Danny Aiello), steal the artifact, but learn that the real valuable was not the artifact itself, but a small crystal inside of it. The crystal turns out to be one of three that piece together to form the key to a machine that miraculously turns common lead into gold. The man behind the search is Darwin Mayflower (Richard E. Grant), the maniacally deranged head of an American corporation. Joined by his equally demented wife, Minerva (Sandra Bernhard), the duo intends to destroy the world’s economy by flooding the stock market with pure gold. Working with the pair is rogue CIA agent George Kaplan (James Coburn, spoofing his role from Our Man Flint) and his elite team of agents, whose code names are taken from popular candy bars such as “Snickers” and “Butterfinger.”
Hawk is kidnapped, shipped off to Rome, and blackmailed into stealing the remaining two artifacts. As if the story doesn’t already have enough forces at work, the Vatican is thrown into the mix, along with Anna Baragli (Andie MacDowell), a schizophrenic nun who keeps an eye on Hawk, and soon realizes she might have a thing for sinners.
The story gets lost amid this coliseum full of psychotic American yuppies, CIA candy bars, and the Vatican, but the fun here comes not from the escalating insanity of the plot, but from the spectacular action set-pieces and endlessly quotable dialogue. When Anthony Mario, played by Frank Stallone, explains to Hawk the importance of stealing the first crystal, Hawk replies “Directions even your brother can understand,” A “Sly” Hollywood reference to Frank’s brother, Sylvester. Minutes later, Eddie rolls across the Brooklyn Bridge...on a gurney. The film reaches a point where the story grows secondary, almost irrelevant. In a scene that comes about an hour into the film, James Coburn says to Hawk “That's irrelevant now. You're irrelevant now.” It seemed all too fitting.
There are some deliriously off-the-wall moments. For every Three Stooges-type pratfall, there is an obnoxious, smug wisecrack. I found myself repeating lines just for the sake of it. But as the movie grows stranger, the “misses” begin to outrun the “hits.” Unlike another fantasy-comedy, Ghostbusters, which even as the special effects become more frequent never lost its charm, Hudson Hawk becomes its own worst enemy.
As the ever-sinning hero, Bruce Willis once again dons the role of the ordinary man in an extraordinary situation. As with his star-making turn in Die Hard, Willis is no superhero. He’s less of a man than James Bond. And he isn’t as smart as Indiana Jones. Not to mention, he is a thief. But he’s smart, charming, and wily. The guy wins you over.
Hudson Hawk is an invitation to a world of adventure that embraces the ludicrous, defies the laws of physics, and lets day become night within a matter of seconds, all for the sake of telling this unique story. Only you can decide whether to accept the invitation.
The real question is: would you like to swing on a star?