Mac (Mel Gibson) and Nick (Kurt Russell) are old friends who are on opposite sides of the law. Mac was once a legendary drug dealer though he says that he’s now retired. Nick is a narcotics detective with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Early on, Nick warns Mac that, if he is dealing again, he’s going to have to arrest him. Mac says that he has no interest in getting back into the business but no one believes him.
Mac is actually more interested in Jo Ann Valleneri, who owns his favorite restaurant. Since Jo Ann is played by Michelle Pfeiffer, who can blame him?. After tracks Mac to the restaurant, he becomes attracted to Jo Ann too and again, it’s impossible to blame him. Soon, Jo Ann and Nick are a couple but is Nick just using her to find out about Mac’s relationship with a mysterious drug lord named Carlos? And when Mac moves in and starts his own relationship with Jo Ann, does he really love her or is he using her to throw Nick off of his trail?
Tequila Sunrise should be a great film but instead, it’s only a good one. It has all the elements of greatness — Michelle Pfeiffer at her sultriest, Kurt Russell at his coolest, and Mel Gibson before he lost his mind. It also has a good supporting cast, including Raul Julia, J.T. Walsh, and Arliss Howard. Ultimately, it doesn’t really come together because the film’s director and screenwriter, Robert Towne, doesn’t seem to be sure what type of story he wants to tell. Tequila Sunrise could have either been a great crime thriller or a steamy love story but, by trying to be both, it gets bogged down in its own convoluted plot. That probably won’t matter to most viewers, though. Not when Russell, Gibson, and Pfeiffer are all on screen together at the same time. Tequila Sunrise tries to be many things but it works best as a celebration of movie star charisma.
One final note: The film looks great. Visually, this is one of the ultimate California films. Cinematographer Conrad Hall received an Oscar nomination for his work on this film and it was more than deserved.