Sunday, March 22, 2009

Tequila Sunrise

Tequila Sunrise posterTequila Sunrise (1988) begins with two drug dealers nervously waiting for a meeting with their buyers. Dale ‘Mac’ McKussic (Mel Gibson) appears to be the more experienced of the two as he secretly hides the pound of cocaine in the back of their hotel room’s toilet because he had noticed too many peanut shells on the ground outside their room (a sure sign of cops on the stake-out). Soon the buyers arrive and Mac makes a quick exit, but not before ‘taking a leak’ first to collect the drug stash, and then meets one of the buyers in the hall. Identities are uncovered as the two beginning chatting and the ‘buyer’ in the hallway is revealed as Dt. Lt. Nick Frescia (Kurt Russel) who quizzes Mac on why he is back on the drug scene and out of retirement. Mac replies that he’s simply teaching his lawyer, who has come upon some cocaine, how to sell the drugs, and that the police won’t find any evidence in the room because Mac couldn’t let a kid like Andy get busted. It is apparent that Mac and Nick share a unique bond between drug dealer and police officer as Nick warns Mac not to return to his car. As promised, a full-on raid descends on the building and Mac barely escapes to his favorite Italian restaurant, Vallenari’s.

Nick later sits down next to Mac at his table and tells him that they know he’s up to something and that the cops in the van outside, DEA Agent Hal Maguire (J.T. Walsh) in particular, think that he’s dealing through code from within the restaurant. Suddenly the restaurant’s host, Jo Ann Vallenari (Michelle Pfeiffer) appears at the table and Nick is immediately love-struck. When Hal brings Jo Ann in for questioning the next day and attempts to blackmail her for information on Mac, Nick comes to her rescue and is consequently owed a dinner at the restaurant from the willing Jo Ann. As the two are dining, their platonic relationship becomes something more, even though Jo Ann knows that Nick is scouting for information on Mac. Although Nick is the new Head of Narcotics for Los Angeles County, he can’t imagine arresting his friend; that is, until Hal reveals that his sources say there will be a massive cocaine deal going down soon between Mac and the mysterious Mexican dealer, Carlos (Raul Julia). This situation begs for Nick to put his friendship on hold and discover all he can about the deal, if only to help his friend get an easy sentence.

Mac notices the heat on him and so stalls the deal between him and Carlos. The two drug dealers have been friends ever since Mac went to a Mexican jail for two years for smoking marijuana on a beach in Mexico and Carlos happened to save his life while on the inside. Mac decides to focus instead on his son’s birthday for which he asks Jo Ann and her restaurant to cater. At the party, Jo Ann sees her best customer as a doting father, not a drug dealer, and tells Mac afterwards that she has been talking with Nick. When Mac gives Jo Ann a $2500 tip for the party, she believes it to be a bribe to keep quiet and confronts Mac on the beach outside his house only to embarrassingly discover that he had given her the envelope for his ex-wife and not the one to pay for the party. At that moment, Mac’s son Cody takes a nasty spill on his surfboard and Jo Ann is obliged to help Mac care for him. It is here that Mac and Jo Ann have a heart-to-heart and Mac reveals that he doesn’t go to her restaurant to make drug deals, but instead to see her.

That night at the restaurant, Jo Ann is happy to see Nick until he leads her to the wine cellar where the Mexican Federales, and in particular Comandante Xavier Escalante, are hiding with the DEA to plan a raid on Mac when Carlos arrives. The DEA needs the Comandante’s help to ID Carlos as no one knows what he looks like. Jo Ann realizes that Nick is still just using her to get to Mac and goes to Mac’s house to look after Cody while Mac is away. After Cody is picked up by his mother, Mac returns and he and Jo Ann finally release their sexual tension in a passionate hot tub sex scene, much to the delight of the Mexican Federale surveillance team. Mac steps back into the house and is suddenly confronted with the Comandante, who actually turns out to be Carlos. He is a reckless drug dealer and attempts to run the deal that night, but Mac is reluctant due to his relationship with Jo Ann, who is called back to work only to realize that Nick had called her to get her out of Mac’s house before the raid.

Jo Ann returns to the house to find Carlos getting ready to leave for his boat. He brings her along and then proceeds to get intoxicated with Mac so that he can convince him that Jo Ann needs to be eliminated as she is the only one who can identify them. Mac manages to drunkenly get Jo Ann and himself into a smaller motorboat, which carries the cash and cocaine stash, and Jo Ann promptly reveals to Mac that she’s in love with him. Meanwhile, Nick has put two and two together and realized that Carlos is the Comandante. Then he and Hal pick up a radio transmission from the ‘Federales’ giving away Mac’s position. Before Nick can arrive, Mac drops Jo Ann off and then attempts to blow-up Carlos by leaking the motorboat’s gas, but not before Carlos pulls a gun on Mac. The two struggle and finally the gun goes off, running the bullet first through Mac’s side and then into Carlos’ gut. Carlos dies in his friend’s arms just as Hal arrives and begins mercilessly shooting at Mac who jumps into the water. The bullets light the leaking gasoline on fire, and Nick arrives just in time to see his friend becomes lost in a sea of fire and explosion. The next scene shows Jo Ann arriving at the beach upon Nick’s instructions, at some unspecified length of time after that fateful night. Suddenly she sees Mac hiding in the waves just off the shore and races into his arms. As Nick watches from above, it is clear that he is allowing the woman he loves to be happy with his best friend, Mac, instead of him, while keeping them both under his watchful eye of protection and away from the clutches of the law.

The international relations displayed between these two countries are a bit unclear as the Mexican Federales actually turn out to be Carlos and his henchmen, and the DEA officers are made to look ignorant in the wake of trusting the comandante as an ally for 8 years. The one apparent tie to the US for Latin America, in particular Mexico and Colombia, is that they are the drug suppliers for the white, American dealers. Colombia is described only in terms of the Mac’s incessant accounting problems with them, while Mexico is portrayed through Carlos as a corrupt and dishonest culture and, although quick to keep friendships alive, also merciless in their attempts to escape justice; for example, wanting to kill Jo Ann for fear of being identified. The final conclusion drawn shows a landslide victory for the foreigners being the ones who are needed to make the drug deals proceed, but are also the ones who take the fall as the American drug lords are able to continue living their lives in peace, under the protection of their very own police force.

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