Posted on Tuesday, March 1st, 2016 by Fred Topel
These days, every movie that comes out seems to generate a think piece. In the days before the internet, think pieces were mostly relegated to the biggest and best films. Really it’s only been in the last 10 years of prolific websites and social media that think pieces have expanded and thrived. I wish there had been websites and social media when I was a young movie fan. Think of all the think pieces I never got to write! Well, it’s not too late. If I’d been a professional writer in 1991, and there were website with unlimited space and social media to promote it, this is the think piece I would have written: “The Failure of ‘Hudson Hawk‘ Means We Can’t Have Nice Things.” So let’s take a De Lorean back to 1991 and see if we can change history and make Hudson Hawk a hit with this think piece!
With the success of Die Hard, Bruce Willis was able to get his dream movie made. It probably helped that he signed on with the same producer (Joel Silver) to do Die Hard 2 first. But now we have the movie Willis really wanted to make, and everyone hates it. What if Hudson Hawk fails? Will no celebrity will ever be allowed to make their dream project again? Everyone should support it. I can’t live in a world where there are no more Hudson Hawks.
Surely you know what Hudson Hawk is about because the trailers have played before every blockbuster movie all year. Eddie Hawkins (Willis) gets out of jail after a 10-year sentence for cat burglary. The world has changed and the Hudson Hawk missed a lot of important things like the movie E.T. and the Nintendo Entertainment System. Before he can even re-adjust to modern day society, he’s immediately forced to do another job stealing obscure Da Vinci artifacts.
First of all, Hudson Hawk was mismarketed. They made it look like another Bruce Willis action blockbuster with John McClane firing bazookas and jumping out of exploding windows. So I understand if you went into Hudson Hawk looking for Die Hard 3 (which will have to be called Die Hardest. There’s no other alternate title they could come up with.) But if you went for Die Hard 3 and don’t appreciate the absurd musical action comedy, it’s your loss because this is wonderful.
Yes, Hudson Hawk is actually a musical. They buried that, but Hawk and Tommy Five-Tone (Danny Aiello) commit a burglary while performing “Swinging on a Star,” and the film’s action climax is sung to “Side By Side.” That’s only two songs and I would have been happy with a lot more. There’s no shortage of straight action movies where the heroes don’t break into song. Can we at least have one where they do?
The tragedy is there were people who would love to see an action musical, and they didn’t even know about it in time to save Hudson Hawk. They didn’t even market it to Bruno fans! You don’t even have to learn new music because they’re using classic standards. Maybe one day we’ll get musicals entirely comprised of existing classic music, but for now people aren’t ready for it.
Even though there are big stunts and action, Hudson Hawk doesn’t play like a traditional action movie. It’s more like a live-action cartoon, where the rules of reality are different. Please don’t dismiss that as stupid. This movie is playing with the form of cinema like the French New Wave films did, only on the scale of a $100 million blockbuster! So Hawk jumps off a roof and lands in a completely different room with a cartoon sound effect, and the characters act like they were waiting for him. To me, this opens up a whole new world of creativity where we can experience things unlimited by the constraints of normal physics, or rules of narrative storytelling.
I think this is the future of cinema. I predict movies will be told out of order, maybe even backwards. When that happens Hudson Hawk will only seem like a memento of early cinema risk taking. For now, try not to take the “reality” of the movie too seriously. It’s only a matrix, if you will. They say “Swinging on a Star” is six minutes long but it doesn’t take them six minutes to sing it either. Time is relative, not literal.
Even if there weren’t musical numbers and avant-garde technique, the supporting characters of Hudson Hawk seem like a lot for audiences to take. The villains, Darwin and Minerva Mayflower (Richard Grant and Sandra Benrhardt) are flamboyant hams. As muscle, they hire George Kaplan (James Coburn) and his army of assassins named after candy bars. Not only are Kit-Kat and Butterfingers the names of some of the villains in Hudson Hawk, but the local mob includes Caesar and Antony Mario, the Mario Brothers. Hawk doesn’t get it because he’s never played Nintendo.
It’s wonderful the way Hudson Hawk can comment on our world like that. It’s not an outright spoof like Blazing Saddles or Airplane! because there’s never been a movie like Hudson Hawk before to spoof. So Hudson Hawk is its own original world but throws in a little meta commentary and references along the way.
There’s really no reference for the kind of humor of Hudson Hawk. It’s just absurd to go from talking about Leonardo da Vinci to singing songs to meeting wacky characters to breaking the laws of physics. In a way, absurdity actually gives you more for your money. A normal movie can only be one of those things but an absurd one can be everything.
You know Bruce Willis is going to be funny in whatever movie he’s in, reacting to crisis with a quip like “Yippie ki-yay, motherfucker.” When the world he’s in is already ridiculous, I think Willis is even funnier. It’s as if a Saturday Night Live character had his own movie. Actually, that’s a really good idea. Lorne Michaels should consider it. The Blues Brothers aren’t the only sketch in his stable that could sustain an entire movie. I hope we get a Church Lady or Liar Guy feature.
I guess we’ll never know if there was an audience for Hudson Hawk because, because it wasn’t marketed to them. I just don’t get it. This should be a great way to introduce an audience to new genres. If an audience came to see a generic action movie and got something unique and original instead, they should be happy about it!
This isn’t the first time it’s happened either. I remember when Joe Versus The Volcano was sold as a wacky Tom Hanks comedy. It’s funny but in a different kind of way. It’s more of a metaphorical satire, and the people who blamed it for not being Bachelor Party missed out. I’m glad to see Hanks taking risks like that. I don’t think I’d want to see him do a serious drama or anything but as long as every other movie is a Turner and Hooch, I hope Hanks makes Joe Versus the Volcano: The Rematch. Oh wait, that’s a spoiler for Joe Versus The Volcano, sorry. He doesn’t die in the volcano.
What’s the best approach: to advertise the unique, peculiar little snowflake of a movie and risk the possibility that no one will take a chance on it, or just pretend it’s something else and make the audience mad anyway? I suspect movies will always be sold as something different to get you in the door. It’s up to us to be able to adapt. Maybe next time there’s a Hudson Hawk, people will appreciate the gift that it is. Then it will be a success and they’ll just advertise it to that massive new audience next time!Cool Posts From Around the Web: