Screwball disaster: Hudson Hawk, the flop that started the downfall of Bruce Willis
Death is dotted throughout Bruce Willis’ recent resume. In the next Out of death (release date to be confirmed), he plays a retired ranger who saddles up to solve a final crime. It should also appear shortly in A day to die, on “a parolee who kills a member of a drug union”. In April, Deadline announced that Willis had been cast Field of death, an action thriller about a man “whose life on his serene farm is interrupted when a cop and a pair of dangerous criminals show up.” Also watch out for capers to come Soul Assassin and American Headquarters.
Even the brightest stars eventually fade. Few, however, have passed out as completely as Willis. Today, the 66-year-old collects his Die hard indestructible badass character in a never-ending parade of generic action releases. It’s easy to forget that he’s already ordered $ 25 million per movie. Or that he was considered one of Hollywood’s most charming Renaissance men. An action star, of course. But a singer to boot – his soul-jazz record from 1987 Bruno’s return peaked at four in the UK charts – and a natural comedian.
What happened? The seeds of its decline were arguably sewn up 30 years ago this month with great folly, Hudson hawk. A pacy prank, the film tries to skate on nothing but Willis’ megawatt charm. The big idea is that Bruce Willis, the sweetest fixture in Tinsel Town, is someone we’ll want to spend 100 minutes with. He sings, he smiles, he cracks wise. Who could resist?
Lots of people, as it turned out. Hudson hawk, which marks its third birthday on May 24, took the plunge, bringing in just $ 17 million in the United States on a budget of $ 70 million (it did better overseas). He had, it is true, already endured a mega-flop, against Tom Hanks and Melanie Griffith in the 1990s The bonfire of vanities, directed by Brian De Palma. This, however, had been an ensemble piece, from which he had emerged with an intact reputation. Blame for Hudson hawk would, on the other hand, rest squarely on Willis’ shoulders. The lesson for the star was that he had to stick to the model of action established in 1988 with Die hard.
That’s what he did. Packed in retirement was the super-smooth Willis from 1987 faux-com Blind date (opposite Kim Basinger) and Moonlight, the cult TV show in which he and Cybill Shepherd recreated the pungent chemistry of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. From there, the dark spiral of VoD and the movies that all have “Kill” in their titles may have been inevitable. Hudson hawk was the start of the longest slow flat tire in Hollywood history.
Recently a campaign was claimed Hudson hawk. The New Yorker Last year, a counter-current play heralded a “feast of visual imagination and whimsical style.” Critic Mark Kermode defended it. But The New Yorker and Mark Kermode are cheated and you shouldn’t believe them. This screwed-up heist film puts one foot in error with almost every step.
Even the simple premise, imagined by Willis and old friend music producer Robert Kraft, exudes cartoonish inanity (the film is Willis’ lonely writing credit). Willis plays Eddie Hawkins, AKA master and Hudson Hawk burglar. Barely out of prison, he is embroiled in an international Bond-style conspiracy involving a criminal power couple, the Mayflowers – portrayed by a savage assault on Richard E Grant and Sandra Bernhard.
They are on the trail of a device believed to have been created by Leonardo da Vinci, which can turn lead into gold and which, for reasons never fully disclosed, will allow the Mayflowers to rule the world. In an attempt to foil their plans, Hudson teams up with an undercover nun played by Andie MacDowell. One of the large pieces of the set involves Willis and MacDowell escaping from an exploding castle in Italy in Leonardo’s prototype plane. Earlier, Willis crossed the Brooklyn Bridge in an uncontrollable hospital bed, shouting, “How do I drive? 1-800-I’m-gonna-f *** in’-die! “
Nothing good can come from a movie in which Bruce Willis plays a wise cat burglar who swears streak as he crosses the Brooklyn Bridge on a hospital bed. And Hudson hawk is, if anything, more painful than the synopsis suggests.
Manic smugness permeates every scene. It gets thermo-nuclear as Hawk and his pal Tommy “Five-Tone” Messina (Danny Aiello, a former pal of Willis from his New York bar days) burst into a Rat Pack duo during a flight. Somewhere, there’s a movie buff whose toes haven’t fully unwound from the experience yet.
Vanity projects were a hot trend in 90s cinema. Schwarzenegger parodyed himself by slamming Last action hero. Kevin Costner’s The postman was a post-apocalyptic monument to an ego about to soar into deep space. But none were as disastrous as Hudson hawk.
“Bruce covered the whole movie,” Steven E de Souza, the project’s screenwriter, told Fandom.com. “I started to rewrite and direct it. The studio transported me to Italy. I was there for five weeks. Every day I would say, “Has he stopped rewriting?” and they were saying “no” And there was no way I could snatch the pencil from her hands. But they got me there in case I could cancel what he was canceling.
Willis’ ego wasn’t the only thing out of control. The budget too. With filming in Italy and Hungary running for 106 days – the Italian crew are said to have insisted on knocking down the tools at 5 p.m. sharp every night – producer Joel Silver may have wondered what he had agreed to. Or maybe he remembered the success he had with Willis on Die hard and its 1990 sequel and trusted the actor’s influence to lead the day at the box office. No matter what he felt, he never shouted “stop”.
Willis brushed aside rumors of the uncontrollable costs. “These things behind the scenes seem to be very interesting for people,” he told The New York Times. “I read five budget reviews for this movie. What you need to understand is that we are not spending other people’s money. We try as hard as possible to make an entertaining film. “
One person who tried to put the brakes on the star was director Michael Lehmann. Hudson hawk Should have been his big Hollywood moment after the cult hit of the 1989 black comedy Heather (which helped make Winona Ryder a star). But as soon as he got on set, it became clear that he was there to serve Willis’ vision rather than the other way around.
“I think everyone knew Bruce was in charge,” said an anonymous member of the crew. The New York Times. “There was no doubt. Michael might suggest a cart stroke, for example, and Bruce would say, ‘That’s not good; let’s do this.’ And we had to make the adjustment and do it Bruce’s way, and at first Michael fought really hard.
Maybe he knew he was on a sinking ship without a life jacket. Grant and MacDowell also did it. When he looked at the finished cut, the Withnail and me The star was dismayed – and deeply concerned. “I sat down with Andie MacDowell and our agents when we were encouraged to go see a screening before it premiered,” he said. The Guardian. “Andie and I both looked at each other simultaneously and we were like, ‘We’re never gonna work again.'”
Grant was wrong never to work again. He was, however, quite right to diagnose Hudson hawk like a disaster for everyone involved. This was confirmed when, with palpable glee, critics lined up to plug him in – and Willis’ jokey centerpiece performance.
“This incredibly gruesome movie can drive an audience a little bit crazy,” said Rolling stone. “You want to throw things, yell at the actors, beg them to stop.” In keeping with this feeling, The Washington Post concluded: “To say that this megamillion Bruce Willis vehicle doesn’t fly is an understatement in the extreme.” The Razzies would later nominate it as one of the worst films of the 1990s.
Willis seemed to take the reaction to heart. From that moment on, and with one or two exceptions, he would stick to variations of Die hardEveryone’s soaked in blood, John McClane. Even in his best excursions – pulp Fiction, The fifth Element, The sixth sense – he’s a moron who observes the world through hooded eyes. Weighed, it is tempting to conclude, by the failure of Hudson hawk.
Which brings us to late-period Willis – a fascinating study of artistic decline. As the sun has set on his A-lister status, Willis leaned more and more into what he knows best. Consider his recent series of films, with titles that sound like bad video games from the mid-1990s: Kill hard, First murder, Trauma center, Reprisals, Marauders.
He doesn’t break his guts on any of those bends. Often times he’s confined to a cameo – playing, say, a sourpuss billionaire (Kill hard), or a grizzled police lieutenant (Trauma center). But even with a more substantial part – like a cranky astronaut in the last year Infringe – he wears a pained expression, like Butch Coolidge in pulp Fiction after saying “his ass falls” in the fifth round. Willis has been dying hard for 30 years.
And yet for all this it is clear that he has a deep affection for Hudson hawk and his burlesque tone. And whatever he feels about the consequences, he’s obviously had fun doing the thing. Biting the landscape together, Willis and Aiello give off the vibe of two brothers who recreate a 1940s Bing Crosby-Bob Hope road movie.
The problem was, we were in the 1990s and wisecracking alone couldn’t support a $ 70 million action comedy. Willis insisted Hudson hawk was intended as a satire of the genre – that absurdity was meant to be part of the charm. The cosmic joke was that no one saw the funny side. In this regard, he seems proud of the fact that in the years since the film has garnered a modest cult following.
“Looking at how this cult film came to be, and what people come to tell me in the streets about it, they dig into the fact that he was making fun of himself, that it was satire”, he said in the commentary to the DVD release of Hudson hawk. “I don’t think anyone had that when he came out.”
It would be irresponsible to recommend anyone to research Hudson hawk. There are times when it makes you want to tear your eyes out. And yet, it has value as a time capsule from a time when Hollywood stars could arm studios to lavish millions of ego monuments. It was Bruce Willis at the height of his box office weight. From there it was a long way down. It has probably been in free fall since, picking up speed as it goes.