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Film / Tequila Sunrise

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"Nobody wants me to quit. You know, don't quit. Don't get caught. Stay on top long enough for us to knock you off. I mean, that's the motto around here. Nobody wants me to quit. The cops want to bust me. The Colombians want my connections. My wife, she wants my money. Her lawyer agrees and mine likes getting paid to argue with him. Nobody wants me to quit. I haven't even mentioned my customers here. You know they don't want me to quit."
Dale "Mac" McKussic

Tequila Sunrise is a 1988 romantic crime drama written and directed by Robert Towne and starring Mel Gibson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kurt Russell, J. T. Walsh and Raúl Juliá.

Dale "Mac" McKussic (Gibson) is a retired drug dealer living in Los Angeles, now trying to run an irrigation business. However, no one believes he's really retired, even his best friend Nick Frescia (Russell), a lieutenant in charge of narcotics at the sheriff's department. Nick is being pressured by Hal Maguire (Walsh), a DEA agent, to bust Mac, especially since Carlos, a Mexican drug dealer friend of Mac's, is coming to visit (Escalante (Julia), a Mexican detective, is helping Maguire). As if that wasn't complicated enough, both Mac and Nick end up falling in love with Jo Ann Vallenari (Pfeiffer), who owns an Italian restaurant Mac frequents.


This film contains examples of:

  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Jo Ann gives this to Mac after he saves her from being killed by Carlos. Unfortunately, he's still a little too freaked out by what he's just done.
  • Award-Bait Song: "Surrender to Me", performed by Cheap Trick's Robin Zander and Music/Heart's Ann Wilson; co-written by Richard Marx.
  • Berserk Button: Do not tell Nick to manufacture evidence, especially when his best friend is involved.
    • Also, don't call Jo Ann "slick".
  • The Cameo: Famed Western director Budd Boetticher plays a judge who is a customer at Jo Ann's restaurant.
    • Kenny Moore, a track star and writer who also appeared in Towne's previous film Personal Best, plays Woody, a Coast Guard official.
    • Radio DJ Jim Ladd can be heard at one point.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Literally - the gun Nick gives Jo Ann is the gun Mac ends up pulling on Carlos so he and Jo Ann can escape safely.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Played straight with Nick, averted with Mac.
  • Dies Wide Open: Carlos.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: Mac and Jo Ann - for four hours.
    Carlos: I got starved just watching.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    Maguire: Look, I just want to lay my cards on the table. Whatever questions you have about our...operation, go ahead, ask me. Shoot.
    Nick: Okay. Who's your snitch?
    Maguire: I can't tell you that.
    • There's also this exchange between Jo Ann and Arturo (the bartender):
    Jo Ann: You're never going to believe what just happened.
    Arturo: If it's bad news, Joanna, I generally believe it.
    Jo Ann: I went to return Mr. McKussic's money-
    Arturo: You gave back my tip. I don't believe it.
  • In the Back: Subverted when it seems like Nick might do this to Mac, but doesn't. Played straight at the end, however, when Nick shoots Maguire in the back to keep him from killing Mac.
  • Let Me Get This Straight...: During their Mexican Standoff:
    Nick: I want to get this straight; you're willing to shoot me over drug money?
    Mac: Well, it's an awful lot of money.
  • Love Confession: Nick has a particularly long one to Jo Ann, ending up with:
    Nick: You're honest, kind and principled, and I trust you. Suddenly, I'm ashamed...You're the most beautiful thing I've ever seen, and I'm nuts about you. Now, I've only got one question, and it isn't about Mac, I don't wanna know what you know about Mac. Man, I just wanna see you tonight. Will you see me?
  • Mexican Standoff: Between Mac and Nick. Ultimately subverted, however, in that no one shoots.
  • The Mole: Greg, Mac's cousin, is a DEA informant.
  • My Name Is Not Durwood: It's Mac, not Dale, as Jo Ann finds out.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Mac figures out the cops are after him at the beginning when he sees a trail of peanut shells left by Maguire's partner.
  • Old Shame: In-universe; Mac's past as a drug dealer. He stopped when his son Cody became old enough to ask him what he did for a living.
  • Playing Drunk: Mac does this to Carlos so he can the gun away from him and escape with Jo Ann.
  • Precision F-Strike: Jo Ann combines this with a bit of Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness:
    Jo Ann: Mr. McKussic, it seems, has been engaged in his business for purely romantic reasons, whilst you have been engaged in romance for purely business reasons.
    Nick: I'm not sure I understand.
    Jo Ann: A little vague for you?
    Nick: A little.
    Jo Ann: Well, then, let me spell it out for you; you want to fuck your friend, then fuck him, not me!
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Nick gives a memorable one to Maguire late in the movie:
    Nick: Let's see now - you've lost half a million dollars, confiscated a ton of useless coke, and been responsible for the murder of a federal informant, and that - that's just tonight.
  • The Reveal:
    Nick: Escalante is Carlos, you piece of shit!
  • Romantic False Lead: Nick.
  • Shipper on Deck: Cody is like this for his father and Jo Ann.
  • Title Drop: The title refers to the drink; in one of the tapes Maguire listens to of recordings inside Jo Ann's restaurant, we hear her offer Mac one of these.
  • Watch Out for That Tree!: Unusually, played for drama; Mac's son Cody is surfing when he runs into the pier (or one of the wooden posts holding it up), and ends up spraining his neck.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Carlos gives one of these speeches to Mac:
    Carlos: 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; goddammit, I've had to face that! And no man should by judged for whatever direction his dick goes; that's like blaming a compass for, for pointing north, for Chrissake! Friendship is all we have! We chose each other! How could you fuck it up? How could you make us look so bad?