So once again we have survived.

Tequila Sunrise

tn_tequilasunriseex3-gibsonIn the opening of TEQUILA SUNRISE, Mel Gibson as “Mac” McKussic comes to a motel with a guy and a briefcase full of coke for one of those business transactions that guys with briefcases full of coke have at hotels. One of the guys who comes to meet him is Nick Frescia (Kurt Russell), talking cocky, hair all slicked back. Mac immediately knows that Nick is a cop so he talks his way out of the room and makes a run for it, doing a parkour-like swing from a balconly, nimbly hopping fences, ducking under a freeway overpass, trudging through water, dodging police searchlights.

But this is not gonna be an action film. Written and directed by Robert “China” Towne (his second movie as director), it’s a smart, unformulaic story of romance, friendship, crime and police work, all of them compromised. As we come to find out, Nick and Mac are life long friends, and Nick, although not otherwise corrupt, seems to manipulate cases to prevent his old buddy from getting busted. He’s the good guy, but honestly he should’ve been fired years ago. Luckily his rival in the office is the late, great and easy to hate character actor J.T. Walsh.

mp_tequilasunriseThere’s a great scene where Nick comes into Walsh’s office right after the guy with the tray full of water cups for all the officers sitting around listening to the wire tap. At first Nick acts like he’s there to listen in, then suddenly he flies off the handle, flipping the whole tray over and onto Walsh, yelling at him. The other officers remain calm, don’t intervene, just watch, and when Nick storms out they all make eyes at Walsh. Maybe they’re waiting to see what his reaction will be, but I think they believe he brought it on himself. This will be a reoccurring thing in the movie, the other people in the office looking non-plussed when guys are screaming at each other.

There’s a question of whether Mac has really gone clean or if he’s selling drugs again. He keeps telling everybody he quit, but he might be lying. He does regular person work and lives out of a trailer. It’s an Airstream though, not the same kind of trailer he has in LETHAL WEAPON.

Meanwhile, you kinda try to decide if Nick is okay or if he’s just a dick. He kinda sits on the fence for that one. But of course it’s hard not to like Russell. According to a Sports Illustrated article, Russell based his style on the basketball coach Pat Riley. Weirder, the same article claims that Towne initially wanted Riley to play the character. That seems kinda weird, since he had never acted (other than a cameo as himself in a 1972 Columbo episode) and was in the middle of his famous back-to-back championship seasons coaching the Lakers. So I don’t know about that one.

Well, they didn’t get the basketball coach, but they got Budd Boetticher, director of THE TALL T, to play a judge. So that’s pretty good.

The main theme is the murky line between friend and enemy. Here’s Nick kind of helping Mac, kind of trying to catch him. Kind of working with Walsh, kind of trying to screw him over. And there’s Mac and Carlos, the higher up drug dealer the cops are really after, played by another died-too-young-bad-guy, Raul Julia, somehow predicting how to do an imitation of Guillermo Del Toro. Of course there are times when Carlos and Mac are at odds with each toher and get into some cold-blooded shit, but the rest of the time I don’t think they’re always fakin their friendship. They’re buds. Hangin out, drinking, laughing, Carlos singing opera.

Walsh thinks he’s friends with Carlos too. It’s weird.

The main point of contention between all these pairs of buds is Italian restauranteur Jo Ann Vallenari, played by Michelle Pfeiffer. It’s not that she’s some Yoko Ono driving a wedge between them, it’s just that she’s gorgeous and self-assured and they all misinterpret her in different ways. At various times she’s mistaken for an accomplice or an informant. Two of the men want to protect her, two want to hurt her to get at the other two. She’s caught in the middle of all this shit and she didn’t do anything except fall in love with one of them.

Rather than a love triangle I guess it’s what the title says, it’s a Tequila Sunrise. Mac’s gotta be the tequila, right? ‘Cause he’s trouble. Then I guess I’d go with Nick for the natural, normal orange juice because Jo Ann has got to be the sweet grenadine layer. And they mingle but don’t mix. Three layers in one glass.

The plot gets kinda complex but for me it’s not really a strong narrative movie. It doesn’t feel like it has much drive to it until the end, I really wasn’t sure if it was even supposed to be going anywhere. It’s mostly about watching these characters, so luckily it’s really well cast. Gibson in particular really shows his mix of charm and mania. Mostly the first one, but there is always a sense of danger with him. Even when he’s not a cop he’s a loose cannon.

And it doesn’t hurt that the movie looks great on blu-ray. The cinematographer is Conrad L. Hall, who did COOL HAND LUKE, IN COLD BLOOD and ROAD TO PERDITION. Lots of strong lighting, characters in shadows or silhouetted in front of orange sunsets. Lots of California sun. It has sort of a timeless feel to it that made it hard for me to place in the ’80s or ’90s. Towne avoids datedness in the clothes, hairstyles, settings… the one exception is the music. Shoulda gone for something old. Instead we have a hot tub sex scene set to smooth jazz.

But I forgive it. Not a bad movie.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 27th, 2014 at 12:20 am and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

11 Responses to “Tequila Sunrise”

  1. Not a bad movie at all. But too boring to revisit.

  2. Yeah, something about this movie didn’t quite gel for me when I first saw it. I remember it being kinda flat and uninteresting. Maybe because Towne is a better writer than a director, I just feel he didn’t give it his personal best. What I’m trying to say is he’s not without limits.

    But I always enjoyed young Mel, fresh-faced and lots of energy. Peter Weir’s GALLIPOLI was one of the first Mel movies I saw, a pretty significant film for Australians.

    “See you when I see you.”

    “Not if I see you first.”

  3. The Original Paul

    August 27th, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    I’m sure I’ve seen this movie when I was a lot younger, but I don’t remember a thing about it. Not a single thing. Couldn’t even remember who’s in it. I just have vague memories of putting on a movie called “Tequila Sunrise”. That’s never a good thing.

    “Instead we have a hot tub sex scene set to smooth jazz.”

    …And neither is this. Although I’m kinda interested to rewatch this movie now, if only to compare it to that shower scene in “The Specialist” and see if it can possibly reach the same highs / lows.

  4. That shower scene is SHOWGIRLS awesome.

  5. I remember feeling pretty stupid when I re-watched Tequila Sunrise earlier this year. That’s because last time I saw it, in my teens, I was clearly too dumb to pick up on the fact that this is a smart and unique little movie. As a teenager, of course, I was just disappointed by the lack of action and stuff because I expected a generic cop flick. And now Raul Julias speech about friendship killed me.

  6. Darren, I see what you did there.

    I’d kind of like to rewatch this so I could have a re-evaluation like Plata. My takeaway memory from this though is a certain actor chewing the scenery as he explains the important potential of a certain gadget, which the listening character has a reasonable handle on but the audience does not … and, hey, that important potential just happens to be fulfilled in order for the story to culminate. At the time it came off ridiculously ham-handed, which was hard to tolerate when coming from a writer everyone touts as a master. Nowadays I’d could hopefully appreciate more than the plotting. And I guess it’s fairer to judge writers by the peaks they’ve hit instead of the bits that didn’t come together.

  7. I used to rent this as a kid because of the cast and every single time I used to fall asleep and never finish it. Maybe I should give this another go now that I’m in my 3rd decade of life and have more patience and maturity.

  8. The Original Paul

    August 28th, 2014 at 9:59 am

    Darren – ok, that one gets a “lol”. Or whatever it is the kids are saying on the street nowadays.

  9. Kurt Russell and JT Walsh? BREAKDOWN is your movie for that. Like a lot of you, I saw this years ago, got bored and don’t remember much about it. Feels like time to revisit.

  10. Best hot tub sex scene ever is in Madman Marz. End of story

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