Forgotten Gems: Tequila Sunrise (***1/2) is a Recurring Dream

Tequila Sunrise (1988)

Tequila Sunrise – 1988

Written and Directed by Robert Towne
Starring  Mel Gibson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kurt Russell, Raúl Juliá, J.T. Walsh

What most people remember about Tequila Sunrise is that the film is slick beyond imagining. Kurt Russell is literally playing the big screen version of Pat Riley, then coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. As Russell put it: “Riley’s look was right for this film because he was arrogantly confident but not offensive.”

In the midst of the exquisitely ornate look through the lens of Conrad Hall, Robert Towne makes an attempt  at telling a story in a fashion rarely used since. That style is a noir based on the two friends on the opposite side of the law while simultaneously competing for the affections of a dame. Two of the three leads (Gibson, Pfeiffer) were the biggest stars of the era. One can only guess, then, that the odd man out has to be the one that looks the coolest.

While in the midst of all of the glamour, the performance that steals the show is that of Raúl Juliá as Carlos, the primary target of the investigation of drug trafficking. That he is the lead investigator for the Mexican government would normally be a tough sell for anyone who wasn’t an entertainer of his caliber.

He charges through the film with a presence of one who truly lives in the moment. He knows the dangers that surrounds and he laughs (and sings) in its face. He captures every scene that he is in with a gravitas that none of the bigger names of the time had harnessed by that time.

This is not to say that the other actors don’t have much going on. Gibson Mac is all conflicted charm. The master of staccato gibberish gets to tell us that he is all but cornered into his role as drug dealer. He has many responsibilities, and even took the rap for his friend, leading him to spend years in the Mexican prison. Now he has a child that depends on him as well as his debt to Carlos. When he falls for Jo Ann (Pfeiffer) his die is cast and his guard is let down.

Nick (Russell) has been a guardian angel of sorts, picking his spots and making sure Mac is not there when the whip comes down. His efforts to use Jo Ann as an information source backfire as he starts to fall for her. Russell lays the ground work for the type of character he’s played many time since. He’s good to the right bad guys and bad to the right good guys. He talks tough and can take a shot of truth over the bow.

Jo Ann has enough of a backbone, she too can dish it when it’s necessary. Pfeiffer gives it her best, but her job is to be the dame. She has to be conflicted for (too short) a time, then get her life threatened a time or two and then wait for the explosions to end. The Bechdel test came into popular culture just three years earlier, so it’s no surprise this film fails it in spades. For what it’s worth, she makes a great silhouette of a character.

Towne is on form here as director, even if he succumbs to formula from the writing perspective. The film doesn’t really suffer, though, for the performances of the actors. The highly underrated Walsh does his usual yeoman’s work here as the butt of everybody’s scorn until it comes time to have the weight of all wrath fall on him.

As a fan of Russell, Walsh and Juliá, this film has plenty going for it beyond Hall. It’s debatable that people these days understand the gravitas of Gibson and Pfeiffer from this film alone. That’s okay though. The Oscar nominated cinematography by Hall is worth the price of admission, too. Most people don’t live on the beautiful California coast of the late 1980’s. It doesn’t get old from my seat here in the rains of November.

(***1/2 out of *****)


Cool Papa E Reviews The Mission: Impossible series

Mission: Impossible – 1996
Directed by
 Brian De Palma
Tom Cruise, Emmanuelle Béart, Jon Voight, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emilio Estavez, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Vanessa Redgrave, Henry Czerny, Ingeborga Dapkūnaitė
Written by  
David Koepp, Robert Towne

Considered at the time to be a blasphemous departure to the original series is now seen as a pretty solid thriller.  That is saying something with De Palma at the helm.  Known for his inconsistent ability as well as his occasional genius, De Palma could have sunk this franchise before it started.  Sure, he had just gotten through with Carlito’s Way, but he could just as easily turned it into Snake Eyes , Mission to Mars or, worse, Black Dahlia.

Getting rid of the entire cast in the first mission and then spending the rest of the movie with solid replacements was a stroke of brilliance.  Having Henry Czerny play against cast was equally grand.  The best scene, by far, is breaking into the CIA. Old computers and all, it still works.   The train scene stretched credibility to the max.  The twists are plentiful, and the performances are solid.  As Ethan Hunt, Cruise delivers a performance intense enough and generic enough that he is able to grow into.  The reveal with a half hour left is a little early.  It was nice to see Jon Voight bite it, even if he was Jim Phelps at the time.

(***1/2 out of ******)

Mission: Impossible II
Directed by
John Woo
Starring Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton, Ving Rhames, Brendan Gleeson, Richard Roxborough, Anthony Hopkins (uncredited), William Mapother
Written by Robert Towne

Taking a calculated risk for the second movie in a row, Cruise inserts noted Hong Kong director John Woo.  Woo is a great choice, and he brings all of his bag of tricks to the show.  Problem is, he used about 3/4 of these tricks in earlier films.  The car wreck on the cliff, the gun standoff and the motorcycle stunts are all Woo standards.  Still there is something intriguing about having Cruise attack those stunts.  The color palate is immensely beautiful in Blue Ray, making the last 1/3 of the movie, duplicate scenes and all, remarkable as ever.

Cruise looks like he is having a ball through most of the events.  The bad guy (Scott) is kind of bland, with no lasting impact, unless you consider that he gave up being Wolverine for this role.  I had more of a feeling of danger with Anthony Hopkins as the head of IMF.  Or the blonde number 2 guy.  Thandie Newton is more than adequate as the damsel in distress.

Towne’s script presents a grim fatalism to everything.  One real weakness is any real discussion about how communicable the disease Chimera is.  There is a lot less tension in M:I:II than in most films involving virus outbreaks.  This one makes it seem like it can be solved with hands, feet, guns and grit.  Makes it feel a little insubstantial, which, of course, it is.

(**** out of *****)

Mission: Impossible III
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Tom Cruise, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames, Michelle Monaghan, Johnathon Rhys Meyers, Billy Crudup, Laurence Fishburne, Maggie Q, Simon Pegg, Keri Russell, Eddie Moran
Written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Abrams

Far and away the best of the series, with no discernible flaws.  Taking many risks, including making Hoffman a bad guy, giving Hunt a fiancé and then marrying him all before the major mission kicks off, it succeeds in ratcheting up the tension, instead of making it goofy.  The rescue mission with Russell is as awesome is it is heartbreaking.  The kidnap in Rome, the double cross in the Florida Keys, the escape from the IMF, the building jump and the interrogation scene are all high-water marks for the series.

Hoffman’s belligerent diatribe as he sits there captured shows exactly what they got in this movie that the other two so desperately lacked: a credible nemesis.  Every moment counts, every detail matters, and every scene leads to something.  The same combination responsible for just about every classic series or movie over the last 8 years (Abrams, Orci, Kurtzman) is the driving force behind the success of the film.  Making Laurence Fishburne the boss and Crudup as his buddy in the office works in many ways.  Maggie Q, Rhys Meyers, Rhames and especially Pegg give Cruise the best supporting team yet.

The best thing about M:I:III is for the first time, the series feels vital.  The story gives Cruise a chance to flesh out the Hunt character unlike he has ever been before.  As a husband, he feels more human than he ever did as just an agent.  Like Jean Reno in Leon: The Professional, he has roots.  The sequels have been more a pleasant surprise to now.  With part 3, we now wait in breathless anticipation for the fourth entry.

(***** out of *****)