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Plotopsy Podcast #17 – Hudson Hawk

Hudson Hawk

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Breakfast of Champions

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Today’s feature is the ill-received adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s lauded novel “Breakfast of Champions,” starring Bruce Willis and Nick Nolte.

“Breakfast of Champions” was written for the screen and directed by Alan Rudolph (“Buffalo Bill and The Indians,” “Afterglow,” “Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle”), based on the famous and acclaimed surreal novel by Kurt Vonnegut.

The cinematographer for “Breakfast of Champions” was Elliot Davis, who has done shooting work since for films like “Twilight,” “Legally Blonde 2,” “Lords of Dogtown,” and “Finding Graceland.”

The effects team for “Breakfast of Champions” included Chris Wells (“Torque,” “Looper,” “Captain America: The First Avenger”), Robert Stromberg (“Battlefield Earth,” “Fortress”), Richard Ivan Mann (“Spider-Man 3,” “The Happening,” “Tank Girl”), Steven Fagerquist (“From Justin To Kelly,” “The Terminator,” “Van Helsing”), Mark Breakspear (“The Last Airbender,” “Thor: The Dark World,” “American Sniper”), Rob Blue (“The Faculty,” “Small Soldiers,” “Bad Boys II”), Ray Brown (“Class of 1999,” “Ultraviolet”), and Bob Riggs (“Next,” “Green Lantern,” “Rush Hour 3”).

breakfastofchampions5The producers for “Breakfast of Champions” included David Blocker (“Frailty,” “Into The Wild”),  W. Mark McNair (“Into The Storm,” “Joy Ride”), and Bruce Willis’s brother David Willis (“Hudson Hawk,” “The Kid”), as well as Willis’s frequent producer and assistant Stephen J. Eads (“The Whole Nine Yards,” “Bandits”).

The editor for “Breakfast of Champions” was Suzy Elmiger, who has also cut films such as “Movie 43” and “Feel The Noise.”

The music for “Breakfast of Champions” was composed by Academy Award nominee Mark Isham, who also provided music for films such as “Next,” “Timecop,” “Point Break,” “The Cooler,” “Quiz Show,” and “A River Runs Through It.”

The cast for “Breakfast of Champions” is actually pretty impressive, headlined by Bruce Willis and Nick Nolte (who had previously starred in another Vonnegut adaptation, “Mother Night”). The accessory cast includes Albert Finney (“Skyfall,” “Erin Brockovich”), Barbara Hershey (“Insidious,” “Falling Down”), Glenne Headly (“ER,” “Dick Tracy”), Lukas Haas (“Brick,” “Inception”), Omar Epps (“House,” “Dracula 2000”), Vicki Lewis (“Mousehunt,” “Godzilla”), Buck Henry (“Catch-22,” “The Graduate”), Owen Wilson (“Anaconda,” “Inherent Vice”), Will Patton (“Gone In 60 Seconds,” “The Postman”), Chip Zien (“Howard The Duck”), Michael Jai White (“Spawn,” “The Dark Knight,” “Black Dynamite”), and Michael Clarke Duncan (“Daredevil,” “The Green Mile”), among others.

breakfastofchampions4The story of “Breakfast of Champions” primarily follows a used car dealer who is rapidly descending into madness, though segments also spotlight a struggling eccentric author and an assortment of other local characters in a Midwestern town.

An intriguing number of cast members in “Breakfast of Champions” also appeared in the previous year’s blockbuster, “Armageddon,” including Bruce Willis, Michael Clarke Duncan, Will Patton, Owen Wilson, Ken Hudson Campbell, and Shawnee Smith.

breakfastofchampions2“Breakfast of Champions” had a production budget of $12 million, and didn’t even gross 500,000 in a very limited theatrical release, making it a massive bomb. It was also incredibly poorly received, earning a 4.6 rating on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 32% (audience) and 26% (critics). Kurt Vonnegut himself has apparently claimed that the film is “painful to watch.”

The Entertainment Weekly review of “Breakfast of Champions” written by Owen Gleiberman included the following criticism of the film:

What thrived in the book was Vonnegut’s portrait of post-counterculture America turned into an ironic landscape of happy-face consumerism. Rudolph, in an act of insane folly, seems to think that what matters is the story. The result could almost be his version of a Robert Altman disaster — a movie so unhinged it practically dares you not to hate it.

Admittedly, “Breakfast of Champions” is clearly a difficult source material to adapt to the screen. However, Gleiberman hits on one of the key problems with this attempt: the story of the novel doesn’t matter nearly as much as the atmosphere and the tone, which are the elements that the film somehow totally manages to miss. The odd charm and screwball cynicism didn’t make the jump from the page to the screen here, even if the gist of the story did.

breakfastofchampions3To the credit of the filmmakers, there was at least an attempt to integrate the distinctive illustrations from the book into the film, but they just didn’t work in the same way. A lot of the humor of the novel comes in the form of the various descriptions of the sketches, which never comes through in the movie. The story and characters written by Vonnegut often require a lot of internal dialogue, which can be difficult to pull off on screen. Of the Vonnegut film adaptations I have seen, “Mother Night” does it the best, but it also doesn’t have to deal with the burden of being comedic.

breakfastofchampions6 breakfastofchampions7I’ve noticed that some people have praised Bruce Willis’s performance in the film, but I personally feel like he was strangely cast and not quite suited for the dramatic elements of the role. Throughout the movie, he seems to struggle in portraying the emotional spectrum and sporadic instability of his character. On the other hand, I thought Nick Nolte was fantastic in his seemingly limited screen time in the film, and was the only thing keeping me at all invested in the movie.

Some have claimed that “Breakfast of Champions,” for all of its flaws, is a striking visual movie. Personally, I couldn’t disagree with that assessment more. The movie just looks bad, particularly when there are any surreal special effects called for. They would have been better off not using effects at all than having ones that make the movie look cheap, which is what the case ultimately was here.

Overall, “Breakfast of Champions” fails to capture the surreal comedy of the source material, and winds up being a pretty dull watch. There are some decent performances, but the total sum product is nonsense in the worst possible way. I don’t recommend giving it a watch unless you are a die hard Vonnegut fan, or are just deathly curious.

Hudson Hawk

Hudson Hawk


Today’s feature is the infamous Bruce Willis cat burglar passion project, “Hudson Hawk.”

“Hudson Hawk” was directed by Michael Lehmann, who was best known at the time for 1988’s “Heathers.” However, “Hudson Hawk” was only his third directorial feature. and his first with a significant budget.

The story of “Hudson Hawk” is credited to Bruce Willis and Robert Kraft, and went through a number of screenplay iterations before getting made. The writing credits ultimately went to Steven de Souza (“Die Hard,” “Judge Dredd,” “The Running Man,” “Street Fighter”) and Daniel Waters (“Heathers,” “Batman Returns,” “Demolition Man”).

hudsonhawk2The cinematography on “Hudson Hawk” was provided by Dante Spinotti (“Red Dragon,” “The Quick and The Dead,” “Slipstream”), who took over the project after Jost Vacano (“Robocop,” “Starship Troopers,” “Showgirls,” “Total Recall”) had to leave for other commitments due to production delays.

The cast of “Hudson Hawk” features, beyond Bruce Willis, a number of recognizable faces. Andie MacDowell (“Groundhog Day,” “Sex, Lies, and Videotape”) and Danny Aiello (“Once Upon A Time In America,” “The Godfather: Part II”) providing the secondary roles, with the accessory cast being filled out by actors such as James Coburn (“The Great Escape”), Richard E. Grant (“Withnail & I”), Sandra Bernhard (“King of Comedy”), David Caruso (“King of New York,” “CSI: Miami”), and Frank Stallone (“Lethal Games,” “The Roller Blade Seven”).

hudsonhawk6The story of “Hudson Hawk” centers around a master thief who has been recently released from prison, and tries to turn his life around. Over the course of the film, he is not only brought back into crime, but wrapped up in a convoluted plot for world domination involving covert agencies, alchemy, and a lost invention of Leonardo Da Vinci.

“Hudson Hawk” was undoubtedly a passion project for Bruce Willis, who served as an executive producer and co-writer on the movie as well as the star. To this day, he adamantly defends the film against the harsh criticisms against it.

The bizarre and genre-defying tone to “Hudson Hawk,” combined with Bruce Willis’s existing image as an action star, created some serious difficulties in marketing the feature. Just looking at the various posters and home video release covers, you see a lot of differences in how the movie is portrayed .

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“Hudson Hawk” suffered from a variety of production problems, particularly tied to the inflation of the budget, which was estimated to have reached upwards of 65 million dollars. The massive financial failure and skyrocketed budget of the film (which only grossed a total of $17 million) wound up leading to TriStar being bought out by Sony, joining Columbia into what became Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Mike Medavoy, who took over as head of TriStar during early production on “Hudson Hawk,” claimed in his book You’re Only As Good As Your Next One that he attempted to back out of the film, but that by the time he was in authority, over $12 million was sunk into the flick. In addition, both Bruce Willis and producer Joel Silver had “pay or play” deals, meaning that they were going to be paid for the film regardless of whether the project was finished. Thus, the studio was essentially stuck with a film seemingly destined to go poorly. Medavoy has stated that the movie had “three classic problems: 1) the star is the co-writer, 2) the producer is more powerful than the director, and 3) the director had never done a big film…there was no way to stop the train wreck.”

hudsonhawk4The introduction narration on “Hudson Hawk” is provided by William Conrad, who was brought on specifically because he also provided the narration for the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” cartoon, which was also cited as an influence on the story.

The gurney chase on the Brooklyn Bridge was inspired by “The Disorderly Orderly,” a 1964 Jerry Lewis comedy. Filming was done on location, and required shutting down the bridge for consecutive nights for filming, which reportedly enraged locals.

The reception by critics and audiences was overwhelmingly poor: it holds a 24% critic rating and a 57% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of this writing. However, it does have an interesting cult following that has developed over the years, due to its oddball sensibilities and cracked style of humor.

For whatever it is worth, I have kept thinking about “Hudson Hawk” since I first saw it recently. It may be many negative things, but it is undoubtedly memorable.

hudsonhawk3Personally, I don’t hate the music included throughout the film, which is a big sore spot with many critics. I actually thought that the “Swinging on a Star” segment, which has gained some infamy, was one of the better moments in the movie. The music clearly had an influence on the film, as the character was initially conceived by Willis through the writing of song lyrics. From the outset, “Hudson Hawk” was going to have musical elements.

The humor in “Hudson Hawk” is a bit perplexing, and feels like it is misplaced in time. Physical comedy was already far out of fashion, and live action cartoon humor has rarely proved successful in the modern era. Further, it is all very uneven, varies widely in tone. Despite the clear influence from “The Three Stooges” and classic cartoons, the movie is also inter-cut with realistic violence and profanity, which are elements that mix like oil and water. What was the possible target audience for this movie with these sorts of mixed comedic elements? Director Michael Lehmann has described the film as having a “cartoonish sensibility in some of the action and violence,” which seems to indicate that the final product is, indeed, in accordance with the intended vision for the film.

Overall, “Hudson Hawk” is undoubtedly a trainwreck, and is a shadow that has been cast over many careers in the movie industry. However, it is certainly entertaining on some level: some will enjoy the intended comedic elements, while most should enjoy the inherent wrongness and ill-advised nature of the many odd creative decisions. Either way, I think that most people can enjoy this movie’s existence in one way or another.