Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Tequila Sunrise – An Easily Forgettable Film

Written by Robert Towne
Directed by Robert Towne

It’s very obvious that Tequila Sunrise came out of the 1980s and was likely conceived at the height of the popularity of shows like Miami Vice. It has a slick look to it and a comedic edge that keeps the audience from taking it too seriously yet doesn’t want to be a complete comedy like the Police Academy movies.

Mel Gibson is Dale McKussic, a drug dealer who’s managed to avoid prosecution for some time. He’s at a point in his life where he’s trying to extract himself from that life, but he keeps being drawn back in. He’s dealing with an ex-wife who has custody of their son and burns through money. His cousin, Greg (portrayed by Arliss Howard) has used his name to help facilitate a deal that he couldn’t follow through on.

“Mac” has a tenuous friendship with Lt. Nick Frescia (portrayed by Kurt Russell), a Los Angeles detective. Frescia has avoided having to work on any cases involving Mac and it’s pretty well-known he won’t bust him. However, the heat is being turned up on Mac, and Nick is brought in on a stakeout while Mac is dining at a local restaurant. Nick goes in to see exactly what is going on. He meets the beautiful owner of the restaurant, JoAnn Vallenari (portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer), and is instantly smitten.

There is a problem, though, in that Mac has also fallen for JoAnn and has been trying to solve some of his “issues” before romancing her. JoAnn finds herself being wooed by both men, while at the same time caught between them as a pawn.

The problem there was that I really didn’t care which one she chose. I thought both of the male leads were lacking in character and it would have been nice to see her toss both of them aside. Of course, that’s not going to happen and it’s a game of cat and mouse not just between Mac and the police on the legal front, but on the romantic front as well.

Gibson doesn’t give his best performance here, but it’s passable. He seemed to be coasting after his success with three Mad Max films and also the first of his Lethal Weapon films. His performance isn’t horrible, it just seems like he couldn’t work up a whole lot of enthusiasm for what he’s doing here. I didn’t feel a lot of chemistry between the characters of Mac and JoAnn, and I don’t think it was due to Pfeiffer. I have yet to see her give a really bad performance. When she was working in her restaurant I liked the character quite a bit. Opposite Russell, she seems to hold her own quite well. It’s only opposite Gibson that she seems to lose her direction a bit.

Whether that’s a weakness in the script or due to Gibson’s performance, I can’t be sure. There are plot holes aplenty especially when you have a narcotics detective we are supposed to believe can keep his job while refusing to go after one of the top dealers in town because he’s “a friend.” Russell does pretty well with the role. He cuts through the nonsense when his fellow officers are trying to figure out what’s going on.

The best performance comes from Raul Julia. Although I figured out where his character was going long before I was supposed to, he seemed to be having the most fun in the situation. He also seemed to not take himself seriously and approach his character in the same tone as the film was taking itself from the beginning.

While not a bad film, it just seems like the film wanted to be so many things. It wanted to be something of a cop-thriller but couldn’t quite go there. It wanted to be a romantic love triangle, but couldn’t quite get there. It wanted to be a light-hearted romantic comedy, but couldn’t quite get there either. I also didn’t find myself caring about the characters the way the film wanted me to. Who will JoAnn choose? I thought she should have forgotten about either of them. She seems to have done fine for herself and by herself so far, so why should she want either of these men in her life now, especially with them lying to her and using her to get to the other?

There’s not a tremendous amount of action in Tequila Sunrise. It does try to give some suspense in if and how Mac will extract himself from his illegal activities, as well as if he will win JoAnn’s heart. But it wasn’t all that suspenseful overall. It was fun to watch once, but I don’t feel the need to view it again. I probably saw this back when it first came out, but I couldn’t remember it, and that’s part of the problem. It’s inherently a very forgettable film that won’t leave a lasting impression for any reason.

Special Features:

” Audio Commentary by Producer Thom Mount
” Cast & Crew
” Making a Movie
” On Location
” Theatrical Trailer