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MOVIE REVIEWS : Bruce Willis' 'Hudson Hawk' Fails to Fly as Comedy Caper

May 24, 1991|KENNETH TURAN | TIMES FILM CRITIC

Cartoonist Walt Kelly wasn't thinking of Bruce Willis when he had Pogo say, "We have met the enemy and they is us," but that celebrated remark could serve as the epitaph "Hudson Hawk" will very shortly need. For Willis, who has faced down many a fearsome villain in his time, has finally met his own worst enemy, and it is himself.

"Hawk," a putatively comic caper movie that doesn't come within hailing distance of being funny or exciting, has been a pet project of the actor's for years. He came up with the idea, co-wrote the original story, put it into development and presumably persuaded action-meister Joel Silver to produce and Tri-Star to provide the financing. They all should have stood in bed.

In all fairness, possibly the original idea wasn't such a bad one. World's greatest cat burglar Hudson Hawk (guess who?), in Sing-Sing for so long he's never heard of Nintendo, is finally released. No sooner is he a free man, however, than he and his partner, Tommy Five-Tone (Danny Aiello), are approached to pull off a series of capers for a mysterious cabal of bad guys.

What Willis, director Michael Lehmann and screenwriters Steven E. de Souza and Daniel Waters probably had in mind was a latter-day "To Catch a Thief," with Willis as a wised-up Cary Grant who sings while he works, synchronizing his robberies to the running times of standards like "Swinging on a Star" and "Side by Side." The result, however, turns out to be the most leaden use of music since Burt Reynolds and Cybill Shepherd tapped their way through "At Long Last Love."

So much is in fact wrong with "Hudson Hawk" (citywide, rated R for language), it really is difficult to know where to begin. Just for openers, the plot, which an over-elaborate prologue lets us know will be about a Leonardo da Vinci-invented machine that turns lead into gold, is hopelessly jumbled. There are too many villains, their relationship to each other is never clear, and their acting styles vary widely. British actor Richard E. Grant, for instance, is so far over the top as nasty billionaire Darwin Mayflower that he manages the not inconsiderable feat of making Sandra Bernhard, who plays his wife, look almost restrained by comparison.

Then there is the question of humor. For all its strenuous attempts, the script doesn't offer so much as a smidgen of genuine wit, which means that the repartee that Hudson, Tommy and femme fatale Anna Baragli (Andie MacDowell) are forever exchanging invariably falls flat, and there is nothing more forced than forced bonhomie. Worse than that, the feebleness of the comedy seems to have infected the action sequences, making the usual Silver complement of car crashes and explosions seem perfunctory and tired. Even Willis seems a bit bewildered at times, as if asking himself how he managed to get into such a mess.

The saddest thing about "Hudson Hawk" is that director Lehmann and co-screenwriter Waters were previously responsible for the clever, audacious "Heathers," a film that represented all that is most promising about American film, while this one represents all that is most moribund and retrograde. Perhaps they both earned enough money here so that they won't be tempted to indulge themselves in similar big-budget fiascoes. Here's hoping.

'Hudson Hawk'

Bruce Willis: Hudson Hawk

Danny Aiello: Tommy Five-Tone

Andie MacDowell: Anna Baragli

James Coburn: George Kaplan

Richard E. Grant: Darwin Mayflower

Sandra Bernhard: Minerva Mayflower

A Silver Pictures/Ace Bone production, released by Tri-Star. Director Michael Lehmann. Producer Joel Silver. Co-producer Michael Dryhurst. Executive producer Robert Kraft. Screenplay by Steven E. de Souza and Daniel Waters. Story by Bruce Willis & Robert Kraft. Cinematographer Dante Spinotti, AIC. Editor Chris Lebenzon, Michael Tronick. Costumes Marilyn Vance-Straker. Music Michael Kamen and Robert Kraft. Production design Jack DeGovia. Art director John R. Jensen. Running time: 95 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (language).

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