Misunderstood cult classic or deserved failure?
The answer, funnily enough, seems to be both!
Yes Hudson Hawk is indeed something of a cult gem in that there aren't many other films quite like it and its rather unique approach remains fascinating to this day. It's one of those oddities like The Adventures Of Pluto Nash or that Rocky and Bullwinkle movie where you "get" what they're trying to do and appreciate some of what they're trying to do yet still acknowledge it doesn't work. These are action comedies with cartoonish, old-fashioned vibes and they are admittedly fun in parts but these are also quite niche meaning that spending bazillions of dollars on them was and is folly.
It doesn't help that Hudson Hawk was marketed as a Die Hard-style actioner either.
The core plot of this movie is a promising one: some baddies are trying to kickstart a doomsday alchemy machine created by Leonardo Da Vinci a while back by using a super-talented cat burglar to steal the crystals required to activate it. It's absurd, granted, but it could work in an Indiana Jones-lite kind of way. Or, rather, a Romancing The Stone-lite kind of way. Incidentally, the opening scene, which is set in Da Vinci's time, is exciting and looks more expensive than anything going on in the movie after that: it's a perfect build-up and a criminally wasted one.
The film has its share of problems, so much so that it's hard to know where to start. For one thing, there are far too many characters. You've got Hawk (a respectably good Bruce Willis) and his pal (an overused Danny Aiello), you've got Andie MacDowell's nun, James Coburn and his gang of CIA operatives (all hilariously (?) named after candy bars), some generic mobsters led by Frank Stallone, a knife-wielding butler, Richard E. Grant and Sandra Bernhard's ridiculously over-the-top megalomaniac couple. Keeping track of who's doing what and why is a chore especially when all the plot boils down to is Hudson Hawk doing the same thing three times. Not to mention that each set of characters feels like they belong in a different movie yet everyone is trying very/too hard to belong and be funny.
Which brings me to the film's main issue: the humour. Tonally, this is a pretty consistent flick but the script just drags and struggles to get laughs constantly. There are some stand-out lols, luckily: MacDowell's dolphin speak, the Mona Lisa's cameo, whatever the hell Richard E. Grant thinks he's doing, the surprisingly brutal way in which some characters are disposed of. It's just more amusing than it is a laugh riot and the needlessly convoluted plot is distracting, as are the bizarrely-placed musical numbers.
Clearly Hudson Hawk needed a full rewrite with a less repetitive, messy and plodding storyline, better jokes and altogether more sensible direction. As it stands you can tell there's a really fun, inventive movie in there but it's so sloppy you're left wondering what the hell you just watched.
Worth seeing for curiosity's sake, just don't expect Da Vinci's gold.