Back in Italy of the late fifteenth century, Leonardo Da Vinci was hard at work creating a new machine, one which he hoped would conquer the secrets of alchemy and turn lead in to much needed bronze for a statue, but what he actually ended up with was gold. This breakthrough went forgotten for half a millennium, but a certain American cat burglar released from prison in the early nineteen-nineties would find himself embroiled with a convoluted plot to bring Da Vinci's machine back into operation. That career criminal was known as Hudson Hawk (Bruce Willis) and no sooner was he picked up outside the prison gates by best friend Tommy (Danny Aiello) than he was expected to carry out one last job - but it's never quite the last, is it?
Is this Dan Brown's favourite film? If the film of The Da Vinci Code had turned out a little more like Hudson Hawk then perhaps it wouldn't have been so tedious, but then it probably wouldn't have been much better in other respects. This was star Willis's pet project and he co-wrote the story with Robert Kraft, with the script offered up by Die Hard creator Steven E. de Souza and Heathers creator Daniel Waters which makes it sound as if they might have found the correct tone for a spot of wisecracking adventure. Alas, with its too-savage violence, limp one-liners and relentless smugness, it was no wonder that the movie became the flop it did.
The nineties was the decade of the heist movie, and Hudson Hawk was one of the first to implement the conventions of the reviving genre with not one but three robberies planned throughout the running time. What the baddies, and there are far too many of them for a start, are after is the special crystal that the gold making contraption needs to operate but it has been split up into three and hidden in works of art, the first of which is a small horse statue that Hudson is forced into stealing. What follows is made all the more grating due to Willis's conviction that everyone wants to hear him sing and a contrivance sees him timing his thefts in song.
So what you get is Willis and Aiello singing their heads off in a security guard-baiting act that incredibly doesn't get them discovered, it's the switching of CCTV camera tapes that is their undoing. Rest assured, they still get away with the artefact and this brings Hawk into contact with a steady accumulation of grotesque villains from a blade-wielding butler to a dodgy C.I.A. man played by James Coburn (whose charm is easily the best thing here) and named George Kaplan after the mystery man from Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest.
Kaplan is accompanied by a selection of henchmen named after chocolate bars, another example of the intrusive product placement that was making its presence felt around this time - notice the number of instances a certain computer game manufacturer have their product mentioned. As for the perfomances, they range from the self-confidence of a man who doesn't know his flies are undone to the shrill, fingernails down the blackboard pitch of Richard E. Grant and Sandra Bernhard who have apparently been told that too much is never enough. The frustrating thing is that you can see where all this was getting at, the lively, effortlessly cool caper movies of the sixties, but you can also see how far away from them this mean-spirited attempt is. There's only one genuinely funny line ("Catholic girls are scary!"), but overall you can see why most audiences resisted it. Music by Michael Kamen.