Why can’t Robert Towne just write a script as good as Chinatown every time he ventures himself out there? Better yet, why didn’t he just retire after Chinatown? Looking at his filmography the only thing I’d really miss is his uncredited work on the Missouri Breaks.
So the script for Tequila Sunrise isn’t great. But it’s actually not that bad. What is that bad, however, is Towne’s direction in this film.
Tequila Sunrise features a late-80s all-star cast. Semi-retired drug dealer Mac (Mel Gibson) and his friend/pursuer Nick (Kurt Russell) vie for bragging rights, best hair, and worst sex scene with Jo Ann (Michelle Pfeiffer). Here’s a hint: they come out even in two of the above and Kurt Russell wins the third. I’m not telling which.
There are a lot of twists and turns in Tequila Sunrise, an awesomely audacious performance by Raul Julia as a cop/drug-dealer, and lots of silhouetted sunrise/set shots. None of these can save the film from playing as a farce. At least the plot is somewhat plausible, but there is one giant loose end that bugged me at the end.
Tequila Sunrise is a film that tells its viewer this: if you own a hot-tub, occasionally slip out of your fake-American accent, and can burst out of water with the ferocity of Old Faithful, the odds that you sleep with Michelle Pfeiffer are looking pretty good.
I’m not one to concentrate on love-making scenes in films. They can be awkward to write, more awkward to shoot and direct, and equally as awkward to edit and screen. Plenty are unnecessary, some unfortunate, and others tasteful. The love scenes in Tequila Sunrise are actually partially necessary, and completely, absolutely, beyond-the-shadow-of-a-doubt ludicrous.
What’s worse than a shot of two people kissing that slowly dissolves out…into the bedroom? Not much. Mid-dissolve I’m just thinking, ‘please don’t let the first thing I see be a pillow.’ Luckily it wasn’t. It was Kurt Russell’s forearm. Okay, so a sloppy and cliche transition. I can deal with that. The love triangle is after all, a pretty crucial part of the plot. Here’s what I can’t deal with:
Later in the film Gibson’s Mac and Pfeiffer’s Jo Ann have a “moment.” So one thing leads to another and before we can say…anything really…they’re in the hot-tub. I’d completely forgive Towne if this was just another dissolved, implied scene, but no. Oh no. Not at all. Instead, Towne places his camera low. We can tell that we’re somewhere near the hot-tub. But where are Mel and Michelle? They’re nowhere to be seen. Until…they both literally, and in slow-motion, come shooting upwards out of the water in a lustful(?) embrace. They’re like people tasting air for the first time in days. Or dolphins. Were they having a contest to see who could hold their breath longer? Did they get lost in the hot-tub? If so, why are they naked? I’m so confused!
Worse than this: Towne does it twice. I couldn’t decide whether to puke or laugh. One of the single worst “trying to be serious but turns out absurd” moments in a film I’ve seen in some time. The fact that there are also sloppy ends to scenes, awkward beats, and a general attempt to get a cool atmosphere that comes off as hackneyed and comical makes this a pretty awful film.