TEQUILA SUNRISE has an unlikely plot and characters that don’t stand close inspection, but thanks to attractive starpower, some good dialogue and a sleek production, the 1988 crime meller/love triangle is a reasonably entertaining way to while away 115 minutes. That said, two hours spent drinking tequila sunrises in good company would work, too, and make as much sense .
“What is it Nick, you need some chapstick or something? Because your lips keep getting stuck on your teeth. Or is that your idea of a smile?”
Former high-profile drug dealer ‘Mac McKussic’ (Mel Gibson) is trying to go straight, but his contacts keep dragging him back. High school buddy ‘Nick Frescia’ (Kurt Russell) is a cocky L.A. county narcotics detective, duty-bound to nail his old friend. They both get involved with alluring restaurant owner ‘Jo Ann Valenari’ (Michelle Pfeiffer), whose vulnerability and smarts lead her to feel each guy is using her for motives other than romance. Trust is optional, loyalty comes at a price, identity clashes with essence. The weather’s great.
“Generally I recommend my men stay away from vodka and stick with scotch and bourbon—so the brass will know they’re drunk and not stupid.”
Written & directed by Robert Towne, it has a goodly amount of nifty chatter to provide cover for an overly confused narrative, pacing that crosses leisurely into slack and several too-convenient logic lapses. The three charismatic leads are certainly proficient, though they don’t fully convince as friends and/or lovers—more the fault of script and direction than the actors. Much better are the two main supporting players—J.T. Walsh nails it as an intense, unpleasant DEA agent and flamboyant Raul Julia takes over in his few, vital scenes, having fun with some of the best dialogue. *
“You son of a bitch! How could you do this? Friendship is the only choice in life you can make that’s yours! You can’t choose your family, God damn it – I’ve had to face that! And no man should be judged for whatever direction his dick goes – that’s like blaming a compass for pointing north, for Christ’s sake! Friendship is all we have! We chose each other. How could you fuck it up? How could you make us look so bad?”
Conrad Hall’s sun-glow cinematography is a strong point, with Towne making good use of locations; instead of broiling downtown or out-to-permanent-lunch Beverly Hills & Hollywood, the settings are the less-jangled or self-conscious south-bay beach and harbor communities of Manhattan Beach, San Pedro and Redondo Beach. Dave Grusin offers a nice soundtrack coating, featuring sleek solo work from David Sanborn and Lee Ritenour.
“I don’t know what it is about going to high school with someone that makes you feel you’re automatically friends for life. Who says, who says friendship lasts forever? We’d all like it to, maybe. But maybe… it just wears out like everything else. Like tires. There’s just so much mileage in them and then you’re riding around on nothing but air.”
With many likely hoping for Towne to deliver something on the order of Chinatown, reviews were mixed at the time (it has many loyal defenders). Hall’s camerawork got an Oscar nomination, the tune “Surrender To Me”, performed by Ann Wilson and Robin Zander, achieved some popularity. Made for around $23,000,000, the sunrise dawned at 26th place that year in the States, grossing $41,292,000 (one source claims $106,000,000 worldwide). With Arliss Howard, Arye Gross and Daniel Zacapa. Legendary director Budd Boetticher has a quick cameo.
* Towne: “What was once said of the British aristocracy, that they did nothing and did it very well – is a definition that could be applied to movie actors. For gifted movie actors affect us most, I believe, not by talking, fighting, fucking, killing, cursing, or cross-dressing. They do it by being photographed. The point is that a fine actor onscreen conveys a staggering amount of information before he ever opens his mouth.”