A 1991 Bruce Willis action/comedy doesn’t seem like the place where one would find a six-minute sequence with Leonardo da Vinci in his workshop, a duet of “Swinging on a Star,” a secret order of sleuthing nuns, or Sandra Bernhard. This is, after all, the hyperviolent era of The Last Boy Scout and Die Hard 2. But those surprises are a big part of the charm of Hudson Hawk — a movie that doesn’t so much defy expectations as completely ignores them.
Part Hope and Crosby road movie, part conspiracy caper, and part Rat Pack by way of The Blues Brothers, Hudson Hawk stars Willis as the eponymous hero, the world’s most notorious cat burglar alongside his longtime friend and partner Tommy Five-Tone (Danny Aiello). After being released from a 10-year sentence at Sing Sing, Hawk is looking for two things: a shot at going clean and a cappuccino. Unfortunately, he struggles to find both and instead winds up getting pulled in a web of espionage, organized crime, world domination, and a Renaissance-era conspiracy. Naturally.
While that’s a lot to pack into one movie, no movie seems to have more fun in telling its own story, gleefully bouncing from scene-to-scene, continent-to-continent, from one over-the-top scenario to another.
Still, none of that mattered to audiences when the film opened third on a weekend that also saw the debuts of Backdraft and Thelma Louise (which actually finished fourth). Hudson Hawk became a notorious bomb and an example of movie-star hubris. But as the years have gone by and the film has been discovered on cable and via home video, a small, but vocal fandom has emerged that defends Hudson Hawk as a film wronged by an off-base marketing campaign and humorless critics who weren’t in on the joke.
Are they right? Let’s examine if Hudson Hawk deserves its sour reputation or if it’s worthy of another glance.