As Hudson Hawk, a legendary cat burglar who is blackmailed into stealing some magical metal sculptures created by Leonardo da Vinci, Bruce Willis is meant to be a cheery rogue in the James Bond-Indiana Jones tradition. His mission takes him all over the globe — and, indeed, every new scene seems to be taking place in a different country (and a different movie). Early on, Hudson and his burglar buddy (Danny Aiello) are carrying out a heist, and for no discernible reason they break into a musical number. I could sense a collective ”Huh?” rising from the audience — and that’s the feeling that permeates the entire film. A surreal farrago of ”hip” joking and utter senselessness, Hudson Hawk segues blindly from Three Stooges violence to wink-wink repartee, from 50-megaton explosions to painfully coy flirting between Willis and a rather dazed-looking Andie MacDowell. Every so often, Sandra Bernhard and Richard E. Grant show up as megalomaniacal villains, with each actor trying to out-scenery-chew the other (Bernhard wins). The movie is so disconnected from itself that it’s like watching someone flip through cable-TV channels with the remote control.
The film was produced by Joel Silver, known for action blockbusters like Lethal Weapon and Die Hard, and directed by Michael Lehmann, who made the quirky (and overrated) black comedy Heathers. But it’s clear that no one was quite at the controls. From Heaven’s Gate to Howard the Duck, the modern Hollywood fiascos — by now, a genre all their own — have been defined not just by their tedium but by their closet arrogance. Audiences can sense when the epic resources of the movie industry have been piled up before the camera in a colossally wasteful, big-budget heap. In Hudson Hawk, that arrogance is out of the closet. The qualities that describe most legendary turkeys — the mixture of spectacle and tin dialogue, the idiot plot that just keeps marching on, the actors who plug away with incongruous enthusiasm long after the film has died — are all here, yet in a peculiarly self-conscious, show-offy way. Hudson Hawk may be the first would-be blockbuster that’s a sprawling, dissociated mess on purpose. It’s a perverse landmark: the original postmodern Hollywood disaster.
During a chase, Hudson whizzes down the Brooklyn Bridge on an ambulance stretcher, and a pretty young motorist looks over at him from the next lane and says, ”Are you going to die?” That’s a typical Hudson Hawk joke: another fleeting absurdism thrown into the pot. The one thing you can count on in this movie is Willis’ unflappable, lopsided grin; he’s like a frat boy launching a particularly devious prank. This time, though, the joke is on the audience. Hudson Hawk is a Hollywood first, all right — a fiasco sealed with a smirk. F