One brave movie critic defends his inalienable right to enjoy the hated 'Hudson Hawk'

June 05, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

I'm in big trouble.

My son is circulating a petition to have me removed from the family.

At a critics' screening of "City Slickers" in New York, I was greeted with catcalls, whispers and sniggers. A man who liked "Ishtar" laughed at me.

Various powerful people have requested to see my file.

Worse than that . . . Dr. Tottle is ticked at me.

After all . . . I'm the man who liked "Hudson Hawk."

"Mr. Hunter," writes Dr. Edward L. Tottle, of Baltimore, " 'Hudson Hawk' is not 3.5 stars! Willis jumps off skyscrapers without injury? Several times? Contrived and stupid. You must have slept through this movie to give it 3.5 stars."

No, that was another movie, Doc.

Has any movie in recent history been so savaged so quickly? Across America, critics high and low, left and right, pedant and genius, plot-synopsizer and gestalt-decoder, agree on one thing: this sucker stinks.

That leaves two of us -- myself and a critic in a city 40 miles to the south -- who dared to like the film.

How could I like "Hudson Hawk" so much? It's easy. When I sat down in the theater I started to laugh and I laughed for two hours. So sue me.

As I read with horrified fascination the other critics, it seemed to me that much of the criticism wasn't criticism at all so much as an ad hominem attack on Bruce Willis and producer Joel Silver, a famous Tinseltown spend thrift, bully and all-around not-nice guy. Its collective agenda was to rebuke these gentlemen for various sins against taste and culture, to put them in their places. Their crimes: Willis "smirks." Silver is vulgar. Both are very rich.

Most reviewers reviewed the seriously bloated budget (it cost $51 million to make and has thus far generated $11.6 million at the box office) the rumors that Willis and Silver brutalized poor Michael Lehmann, the nominal director, into weepy submission on the set, and the smug, superior Willis persona. Hardly anybody noticed the movie; they were too busy wagging their fingers at the bad behavior.

What little criticism there was revolved around the issue that Dr. Tottle raised: People jump off skyscrapers without getting hurt. On "Siskel and Ebert," both Gene and Roger noted that too many people jump off skyscrapers without getting really hurt. Roger was so upset he repeated it twice: "You know, people keep jumping off skyscrapers without getting hurt." The two of them much prefer the higher reality of something like "Oscar," which they both praised.

With all due respect to Dr. Tottle and none at all for Gene and Roger, the three of them don't quite seem to get the advanced concept that movies don't have to be exactly like real life. If they were they would be as boring as real life and nobody would go. They are by definition a form of stylized exaggeration; that is their essence, and to object to a certain stroke, particularly in the context of a light-spirited road adventure, because it's a stylized exaggeration is foolish.

Anyway, out of curiosity as to whether my apparatus was wildly out of whack that day and that the movie was the stinker of the century, or if, as I suspected (heh, heh) I alone was right, I did what I believe no one in America has yet done. I saw "Hudson Hawk" a second time. It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.

And, no, I suppose it's not a 3.5-star movie. But it is a 3-star movie.

Why? Because I started laughing in the first seconds and I laughed for the next two hours.

Not as hard, not as wildly, but consistently. Here's what I laughed at:

*Great chemistry between Willis and Danny Aiello.

*Two great comic performances by Sandra Bernhard and Richard E. Grant as Minerva and Darwin Mayflower, two wealthy yuppies hell-bent on world domination.

*A great work up of an avant-garde CIA team with James Coburn leading agents named after candy bars -- one of them, Butterfingers, the comic gem of the movie.

*Jokes at Frank Stallone's expense.

*Andie McDowell's Flipper imitation.

No, it doesn't make a lot of sense but we're not talking rocket science, are we? And yes, it's a little too heedlessly violent. And yes, that climax is probably the movie's worst five minutes. And why did it have to end with a freeze-frame on Willis in high, pure smirk?

But I have a feeling that when "Hudson Hawk" is released on tape -- probably next Tuesday -- and people can just look at the movie without the contamination of the poisonous atmosphere created by all those angry reviews, a revisionist attitude will set in. Like "Beat the Devil," the much-reviled and now much-loved Bogart-Huston collaboration, "Hudson Hawk" may finally get its due.

I liked the damn thing. It's lonely at the top.

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