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The notorious flop Hudson Hawk goes places no other studio action vehicle would dare

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: A Good Day To Die Hard has us thinking about less-heralded Bruce Willis movies.

Hudson Hawk (1991)
Some years ago, one of Hollywood’s biggest stars signed on to play the lead role in an adventure that found him running all over Europe seeking various items hidden in the work of Leonardo da Vinci, all while trying not to be murdered by members of a diabolical secret society. That scenario didn’t work out quite as well for Bruce Willis, however, as it later would for Tom Hanks. Hudson Hawk was one of the most notorious flops of the ’90s, still a bad-movie punchline over two decades later. And Willis, frankly, shoulders a lot of the blame—not just because he helped think up the crazy story, but because this movie arguably caught him at peak smugness, lazily coasting on his wised-up smirk. The more convinced he appears that we’ll find him a charming scoundrel, the more insufferable he becomes.


Yet Hudson Hawk still demands to be seen, if only because it goes places few studio star vehicles have ever dared. The screenplay is credited to Steven E. DeSouza, who penned the first two Die Hard films, and Daniel Waters, best known for writing the outrageous black comedy Heathers (directed, like Hudson Hawk, by Michael Lehmann). As that odd combination would suggest, it plays like the most extreme parody of an action movie imaginable, with every element cranked up to 11. Heist sequences are shot as goofy musical numbers. Richard E. Grant and Sandra Bernhard, as the crazed villains, engage in a film-long contest to determine who can go further over the top, with no clear winner apart from the earplug industry. Andie MacDowell impersonates a dolphin at length. It’s the kind of film viewers watch with mouth agape, unable to believe that hundreds of professionals spent months working to make it. And taken in the right mood, a lot of it is genuinely pretty funny. Anyone can throw the hero out of an ambulance and have him barrel down the highway on a gurney, but it takes a cherishably warped sensibility to have him catch another driver’s discarded cigarette butt, take a puff, and then complain that it’s menthol.

Availability: Not available on Blu-ray yet—though coming in late March on a sad, sad budget-priced double-BD with Hollywood Homicide—but out on Sony DVD and for digital purchase.

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