Bruce Willis, along with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger make up the Holy Trinity of 80’s Action Hero icons. He doesn’t have the muscles of Schwarzenegger or Stallone but what he lacks in brawn he makes up for in other areas. First off, he’s a wiseass. Bruce’s cocky demeanor is more suited to comedy and he can crack jokes that aren’t a cheesy one-liner way better than the other guys. Also, the man has a blue collar appeal to him that his competition lacks. Plus, his physique adds to his likeability factor. Whereas Sly and Arnold look like they just stepped out of a comic book, Bruce can play the Everyman card and by doing so, the audience can better identify with him. Besides, did either Arnold or Sly ever release an album that was half as good as The Return of Bruno? Didn’t think so. Because of that, Bruce Willis is a Legend of the Silver Screen.
Our first Bruce joint is the criminally underrated…
HUDSON HAWK (1991) ***
I thought I was the only person who liked this flick. When it was first released, people went out of their way to shit on this movie. So much so that making fun of Hudson Hawk became a national pastime. Today, while doing some research for my review, I read a bunch of reviews online and nearly all of them were positive. I’m glad the film is finally building up a pretty strong cult following. It’s not perfect by any means, but it definitely didn’t deserve the trashing it got when it first came out.
The movie starts out with a prologue featuring Leonardo Di Vinci. If that didn’t tip the audience off that the flick was not going to be what they were expecting, then the fantasy movie font used for the opening credits sure as shit did. And the prologue is actually kinda funny too. The narration gets some laughs (“The guy on the donkey is just a guy on a donkey!”) and there’s a great bit involving the Mona Lisa.
Then the plot kicks in. Hudson Hawk (Bruce Willis) is a retired cat burglar who gets out of prison after serving a long sentence. His buddy Tommy (Danny Aiello) picks him up from jail and takes him out to get a cappuccino. But before Hudson can even get a taste of his coffee, Hawk is forced by a pair of loony billionaires (Richard E. Grant and Sandra Bernhard) to rob an auction house. Afterwards, they coerce Hawk into stealing Da Vinci’s sketchbook from the Vatican. Little does Hawk know, they are secretly trying to rebuild a Da Vinci invention that turns lead into gold.
A lot of people dismiss Hudson Hawk as a silly vanity project for its star. I mean many critics simply hated the film just because Bruce Willis sings in it. I myself kinda dug the musical numbers in the flick because they actually serve a purpose. You see, Willis and Aiello have to time their robberies perfectly and since Bruce knows the running time of just about every oldies song in existence, they sing stuff like “Swinging on a Star” and “Side By Side” so they know how much time they have to get in, steal shit, and get out. This is a certainly novel touch and Willis is clearly having a blast crooning the tunes. Then again, this review is coming from someone who owned the Return of Bruno album when it was new and liked it (not to mention its follow-up If It Don’t Kill You, It Just Makes You Stronger). Make of that for what you will.
And that’s what makes Hudson Hawk such a memorable character: He’s got a bunch of funny little quirks that sets him apart from your usual summer blockbuster action hero. He sings, he loves cappuccinos, he knows the running times to oldies.
Not many people could pull this kind of thespian high wire act off. Luckily for us, Bruce Willis is one of those guys. With Hudson Hawk, Bruce gives us a character that tiptoes the line between David Addison and John McClane but manages to make it seem fresh and new. It’s one of his all-time best performances.
Bruce has great chemistry with Danny Aiello, who makes for an ideal sidekick. They have some hilarious banter together and it’s a shame they haven’t done anything together since because they make a pretty sweet team. And Willis is good with Andie McDowell, who plays the sexy nun who works for the Vatican. (Yes, it’s that kind of movie folks.)
The cast of villains are also memorable. To say that Richard E. Grant and Sandra Bernhard go over the top would be an understatement. They seem to have walked out of a Scooby-Doo cartoon or something. I also got a kick out of James Coburn as a shady CIA agent whose team is named after candy bars. (Among them are David Caruso as Kit Kat and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake’s Andrew Bryniarski as Butterfinger,)
And of course, Hudson Hawk will go down in history as the first cinematic pairing of Willis and Stallone… Frank Stallone that is. (I wonder if Frank gave Bruce any singing tips on this one.)
Hudson Hawk at times plays like a parody of your usual Bruce Willis movie. It was co-written by Daniel Waters and directed by Michael Lehmann, whose previous collaboration was Heathers. (The story might’ve been written by Willis but the flick has Waters’ black humor and witty repartee all over it). Now Heathers was a funny riff on your average teen comedy. By the time that film was released, everyone wanted to see the conventions of a John Hughes movie turned on its ear. But with Hudson Hawk, the concept of a Bruce Willis action flick was still relatively new (it was only three years since his first major hit, Die Hard) and the public didn’t necessarily want to see a MAD Magazine version of it.
Some of the action sequences are cartoonish, although I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. I think my favorite moment came when Hawk gets thrown out of a speeding ambulance while he’s on a gurney. There’s a great bit where someone throws a cigarette from a passing car and Hawk catches it, takes a puff says “Eww… menthol.” Then while he’s speeding along the expressway on the gurney, he comes up on a toll booth where he has to throw exact change into the machine. In short, this is a pretty awesome scene.
Of course, when you’re doing a comedy this broad and this goofy, it’s only natural that some of the gags are going to fall flat on their face. Like the scene where Coburn all of a sudden turns into a Kung Fu expert and keeps kicking Willis back and forth like a human pinball. When he stops hitting Willis, Bruce keeps bouncing around back and forth. It’s some real Looney Tunes type shit. But what’s funny for Daffy Duck doesn’t quite work for Bruce Willis, if you know what I mean. Then there’s the scene where McDowell gets stoned and squeaks like a dolphin for a good five minutes that’s almost embarrassing. The hits outweigh the misses by a good margin though (there’s a funny bit where Willis gets paralyzed by a poison dart and the bad guys pose his body in silly ways while he’s yelling at them) and the gags come at you so fast, that the lame ones are quickly forgotten. Then again, putting David Caruso in drag isn’t funny; it’s just plain horrifying.
One area that Hudson Hawk excels at is this dialogue. There is a plethora of great lines in this thing. Like when the one candy bar agent reminisces about her previous code name, “Do you know what it’s like being called “Chlamydia” for a year?” Or when the priest from the Vatican says, “We will not lie down for some schmuck from New Jersey!” Coburn gets some great dialogue too with lines like, “I’ll torture you so slow, you’ll think it’s a career!” and “I have a soft spot in my heart for Rome. I did my first open hand strangulation here.” Willis naturally gets some good ones in too (“I wanna do community service. I want to teach the handicapped how to yodel.”) but its Bernhard who gets the best line of the movie when she says, “Eureka motherfucker!”
Our next Bruno flick is another underrated classic; in fact I think it’s one of…
THE GREATEST MOVIES IN THE HISTORY OF THE HUMAN RACE: LAST MAN STANDING (1996) ****
Last Man Standing contains one of my all-time favorite Bruce Willis performances. It also happens to be one of my all-time favorite Walter Hill films. It also happens to be one of The Greatest Movies in the History of the Human Race.
It is of course a remake of A Fistful of Dollars, which of course was a remake of Yojimbo. Is it as good as either of those films? Nope. But it’s a perfect companion piece nonetheless.
The plot is the same. A stranger rides into a small town controlled by warring gangs. He plays them against one another, kills lots of dudes, and makes plenty of money along the way.
The milieu has been changed however. Whereas Yojimbo was a classic samurai movie from Japan’s premier filmmaker Akira Kurosawa and A Fistful of Dollars was a Spaghetti Western re-working by Italy’s greatest director, Sergio Leone; Last Man Standing is a gangster picture directed by America’s leading authority on badass moviemaking; Walter Hill. In front of the camera, we have Bruce Willis essaying the role that had previously been held by Clint Eastwood and Toshiro Mifune respectively. That’s some pretty big shoes to fill, but they fit Willis to a tee. I especially like how Clint’s character was named The Man with No Name and Bruce plays a guy named “John Smith”; which is about as nameless as a dude can get. And we also get an incredibly badass Ry Cooder score. It’s not nearly as iconic as Ennio Morricone’s music from A Fistful of Dollars but I’ll be damned if it isn’t awesome; probably one of the most underrated film scores in history.
The result is akin to when one of your favorite bands does a cover of one of your favorite songs. They take something great and make it their own; and the result is something pretty fucking awesome in its own right. Remember when Guns n’ Roses did a cover of The New York Dolls’ Human Being on The Spaghetti Incident? Yeah, it’s kinda like that.
The lone conceit the flick makes is that it takes place in your standard issue movie western town. At first you may think that the prospect of setting a 30’s style gangster picture in a western ghost town is goofy, but to me it works. (What other movie features gangsters squaring off while tumbleweeds blow in between them?) In the golden era of Hollywood, two genres reigned supreme: The gangster movie and the western. By amalgamating the two, Hill further solidifies the American stamp on the material. I think it’s cool that each version of the film has the unmistakable air of the country that produced it. I mean the samurai picture is solely born from Japanese cinema, and although the western originated in the US, Spaghetti Westerns are uniquely Italian in nature.
The story is as powerful as it’s always been. It’s the way that Hill tells it that makes it seem fresh. There’s a fucking beautiful scene in the beginning of the film where Willis drives past a dead horse on his way to town that sets the tone perfectly. Its Hill’s way of saying the western is dead. Model T’s have replaced horses, fedoras have replaced ten gallon hats, and Tommy guns have replaced six shooters. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the town and of course, the way Willis uses his wits to play the warring gangsters against each other.
Which brings us to a stupid question: Why would two warring gangster clans live in a small half-empty western town in the middle of nowhere? What would there be to gain from having two gangs in such a small space? If they’re bootleggers, who are they bootlegging to? That isn’t a question that comes into your mind while watching the film, but it will be something you’ll scratch your head about later. My answer to this has always been that the town (named “Jericho”) is more or less Purgatory and that Willis is the exterminating angel sending the scum where they belong.
The cast is perfect. Bruce Willis gives one of his greatest badass performances with this flick. He does some of the baddest badass acting in cinema history. The first time we see him, he’s coming to a fork in the road and decides which way to go by spinning a whiskey bottle on the ground. That’s badass.
And when it comes to kicking ass in the flick, Willis is tip-fucking-top. The shootouts in Last Man Standing are amazing. Bruce just walks into a room, guns a blazing firing at anything that moves. Dudes get shot and are propelled through plate glass windows and/or go flying through the air like tennis balls. He empties whole clips into men, just so you know, he can reload so he can empty more clips into people. What makes him so badass is that Bruce hardly moves or ducks for cover during the shootouts. He just stands there, gun in each hand, lighting fools up, Chow Yun Fat style. Cold. Ruthless. Pimp.
Then comes one of the single greatest badass moments in cinema history. Bruce is banging this talkative prostitute (Leslie Mann, before she got Apatowized) and then two guys burst into the room. Bruce doesn’t even blink. He leaps off her, grabs his guns off the night stand, and blows the dudes away. THAT my friends, is why you never go Girl on Top. You just never know when you’re going to have to jump off the broad and grab your firearms. This is an immortal scene. This is one of the most awesomest moments of pure cinematic bliss you’re likely to ever see.
The supporting cast is aces. We’ve got the great Bruce Dern as the cowardly sheriff, William (Newhart) Sanderson as the bartender who helps Willis, David Patrick Kelly (veteran of many a Hill movie) as the Irish mob leader, and Patrick (The Substitute 4) Kilpatrick as one of his goons. Then we have Christopher Walken as Hickey, Kelly’s second in command. Walken is in a league of his own. There’s an aura and a mystery about his character that’s built up before his initial appearance (which isn’t until about halfway through the flick) and when he finally does show up, he doesn’t disappoint. I think my favorite Walken moment in this was when someone tells a story about Walken burning down orphanage; then he looks over at Willis and winks, “Don’t believe everything you hear.”
And that reminds me, the dialogue is top notch. Bruce gets tons of great lines; most of them revolve around drinking. Some of my favorites include: “The whiskey helped, but I didn’t want to get sloppy so I switched to beer!” and “I went two days without a drink. For me that’s pretty good.” Awesome. But Walken gets the best line of the movie when he tells Willis, “I don’t want to die in Texas. Chicago maybe.”
If the flick does have a flaw, it’s the generic title. I mean we already know Willis is going to be the Last Man Standing. They should’ve just called it A Fistful of Yojimbo and gotten it over with.
Our next flick from Bruno is…
TEARS OF THE SUN (2003) **
This was one Bruce movie I’ve always wanted to see but kept putting off because it looked kinda somber. I was sure he gave an earnest performance and all, but I just wasn’t in the mood for Earnest and Somber Bruce. I like him better when he’s in Badass and Awesome Bruce mode.
Well, this was one of those times when my gut instinct was 100% on the money. Tears of the Sun is one of those movies where you can see glimpses of a legitimately badass movie waiting to get out, but the filmmakers went the Earnest and Somber route instead. That means instead of rucking fools up and taking names from frame one, Bruce has to act pouty for half the movie until his character arc gives him to go-ahead to finally blow shit up.
Tom Skerritt, still wearing the same outfit from Top Gun, sends Bruce and his team of Navy Seals to Africa to rescue Monica Bellucci. Because you know, she’s hot and stuff. After walking around for like forever, they finally find Monica but she won’t leave without her patients. So Willis grudgingly brings them along even though he knows that walking 70 or so sick and hungry people through the jungle and putting them on the chopper is going to be no picnic. Since not all of them can fit on the helicopter, that means Willis and company have to do some MORE walking through the jungle to the nearest checkpoint.
This movie has more walking in it than all three Lord of the Rings movies combined. Christ, the movie Fast Walking didn’t have this much walking in it. Honestly, this flick should’ve just been called Walking: The Movie. Overall, it’s kinda like Predator with more extras, less action, and no alien.
Thankfully, there is SOME action in the movie, although it’s weighted towards the end of the flick. Director Antoine (King Arthur) Fuqua films the action rather indifferently though. Bruce and his boys fire on the bad guys (they’re “rebels” but no attempt is ever given to explain their “cause”) and they fire back; but that’s about it. Stuff does blow up and people do get mowed down; although it’s not like; you know, impressive or ass-kicking or anything.
On top of that, there are exactly zero surprises in this movie. You know Bruce will shed his macho side and have a heart eventually. You know Bruce’s teammates are going to be pissed about their new mission but will still back him because he’s their boy and all. You know when the one sniper guy on Bruce’s team goes ahead to check things out, he’s gonna get shot.
Bruce does what he can, although all the script allows him to do is act dour and glum for the most part. Plus, he’s basically a dick. He disobeys a direct order and winds up getting a lot of his men killed; all because he had to get a hot piece of ass out of the jungle. I know we’ve all made mistakes in the name of helping a hot chick, but I never got my buddies killed over one. It would be different if he actually tapped that ass but Monica is strictly one of those chaste Christian doctors, so the words “missionary position” just doesn’t have the same meaning to her.
And our final Willis flick is the pitiful…
THE WHOLE TEN YARDS (2004) *
The reason The Whole Nine Yards was a tolerable Mob comedy was because Bruce Willis was pretty funny and Amanda Peet had one of the greatest nude scenes of all time. Okay, who am I kidding; it was mostly tolerable because Amanda Peet had one of the greatest nude scenes of all time. Well, she doesn’t get naked in this one, so what the Hell was the goddamned point?
This lame ass sequel picks up with Bruce living with Peet in Mexico. He’s trying to turn her into a hitwoman, and naturally she keeps fucking up. Kevin Pollack is this old Hungarian gangster who kidnaps Matthew Perry’s wife (Natasha Henstridge), who you’ll remember used to be married to Willis. Perry teams up with Willis to get her back. Alleged hilarity ensues.
The Whole Ten Yards is a movie filled to the brim with bad ideas. Like having Kevin Pollack play a gangster with a funny accent. He’s usually a pretty funny guy, but covering him in awful old age make-up and making him talk in a silly accent was a bad idea. Or the early scenes where Bruce wears a stupid hippie wig and apron while he does housework. Are we supposed to automatically think it’s funny that the usually macho Bruce is wearing an apron and doing housework? That’s this movie’s idea of a “joke” folks. Again, bad idea. Or giving Willis pet chickens. Seriously, if you wanted a comic relief pet, there are about a hundred other animals that would be funnier than a chicken. And the way Willis cries when one of then gets run over by a car is well… I don’t want to bring up such painful memories; especially when the mental scars haven’t healed yet.
Even the title was a bad idea. The Whole Ten Yards is just a stupid title. Why not just call it The Whole Nine Yards 2? Because The Whole Ten Yards just sounds a heck of a lot more stupid that’s why.
There is not one laugh in this movie. It’s a total train wreck from start to finish. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, Pollack’s farting grandmother shows up. Yes, there’s a farting grandmother in this movie and no, she isn’t funny.
Willis has made some bad movies in his time like Unbreakable and Color of Night and while this one doesn’t quite stink as bad as those did, it’s definitely among his worst. He seems to be on autopilot here. I don’t know if he’s not trying or what, but his lack of enthusiasm for the project certainly shows. Perry acts like a total spaz and all of his blustering and flustering isn’t funny at all. Henstridge is thoroughly wasted as all she does is sit around tied to a chair while Pollack hoots and hollers. And again, Peet doesn’t get naked. There is one scene where she takes her top off but they only show her back. What a fucking rip-off.
Next time on Legends of the Silver Screen, we’ll profile yet another star of The Expendables. That’s right, we’re talking about Jet Li; and it’s going to be a super-sized mega movie marathon too. So see you all next time for Jet Li-A-Palooza.