Tequila Sunrise

Not pictured: Tequila

Not pictured: Tequila

There is a scene in Tequila Sunrise that literally made my jaw drop. (And yes, I am using "literally" correctly in that sentence - there was actual open mouthed gaping in my house last night.) Now, I fully intend to discuss this particular scene in detail, but before I do that I should probably provide you a bit of context, because part of the reason why I was so shocked was because it caught me off guard. Before I can properly explain what made that one scene so exceptional, I need to explain why the rest of the movie was so mediocre.

Twenty years before Tequila Sunrise opens, two young friends named McKussic and Frescia went down to Mexico but only one made it back, because McKussic got busted for drugs while Frescia was swimming in the ocean. Their lives went down completely divergent paths past that point: after McKussic served his time in prison he ended up becoming a major cocaine smuggler and Frescia ended up becoming an L.A. narcotics cop that is on his old buddy's trail. (You know, normal old friends who lost contact with each other stuff.)

If their relationship sounds complicated now, well, then you should buckle your seatbelts, because it's about to get a lot more bumpier. You see, these former friends are also romantic rivals for the same woman. At the beginning of Tequila Sunrise we see McKussic flirting with a woman at a restaurant. It turns out that he's been trying to work up his nerve to ask out the restaurant owner's for months, but he's been too shy to talk to Jo Ann because he's embarrassed about his illicit past. (Well, also his present - but he's been trying to get out of the game and put it all behind him.) However, McKussic has been spending so much time hanging out at her restaurant waiting for his chance to ask her out that Frescia thinks her business might just be a front to help launder McKussic's drugs. After Frescia spends some time with Jo Ann trying to figure out if she's complicit in his crimes he, too, falls in love with her. Will Jo Ann end up being a rat who uses McKussic's affection against him? Will she distract Frescia so that McKussic can make his last big score?

That plot summary should make one thing very clear: Tequila Sunrise feels very much like a movie that was made in the mid to late 80s. (It came out in 1988, actually.) There were vaguely homoerotic movies before and after that time period of course, but that was definitely the apex of movies with macho leads who clearly want to bone each other but who have to sublimate their desire for each other by trying to share the same woman. (Jo Ann even calls McKussic on this in the one scene where she becomes self aware, but then once he tells her that he has no sexual interest in his old buddy she just robotically retreats into being a sex toy for whichever man is closer to her at the time.) But this movie isn't pairing Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone; or Val Kilmer and Tom Cruise; or any of the rest of these guys on this list; no, this film stars Mel Gibson and Mel Gibson's modern baggage, and that means it's a horse of a different color.

Now, I don't want to get into all of Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic misogynistic baggage, so I'll just say this: if you had to name one celebrity whom you wouldn't ever feel bad for no matter what happened to them - well, Gibson would be pretty high on the list. Which is probably why 30 Rock used his name for one of my favorite jokes of all time.

The joke comes from an episode called Operation Righteous Cowboy Lightning. NBC exec Jack Donaghy has realized  that disaster telethons get huge ratings, but those ratings are split between all the networks who have to share the same program. He decides to pre-tape a generic disaster special so he can run a response a few days earlier than his competition and claim all those eyeballs for NBC. Right after the special wraps shooting a tropical storm starts to gain momentum, and as soon as it touches land he decides to air it even though he doesn’t know how much damage the storm is going to do. Unfortunately, the storm only hit a privately owned island, and all it damaged was “Mel Gibson’s Sex Jacuzzi” so Donaghy’s four hour tribute to the “tragedy” is a little… bombastic.

Ever since I saw that episode I’ve thought the phrase “Mel Gibson’s Sex Jacuzzi” was hilarious.

 Guys, Mel Gibson totally has sex in a sex Jacuzzi in this movie.

There’s a lot about the scene where McKussic and Jo Ann finally consummate their simmering love that’s ridiculous. McKussic’s monologue that immediately precedes the watery boning is grade A cheese. They’re under FBI surveillance at the time, and the constant cut-aways to schlubs in a van during their sensual-tub-times seems unnecessary. We’re told that they made love for four solid hours, which is a little eye roll inducing. But none of that is remotely as funny as the fact that in my mind “Mel Gibson’s Sex Jacuzzi” might be the least romantic place on Earth, and yet, that’s where Michele Pfeiffer decides to consent to sex in this movie. I don’t know if 30 Rock was specifically riffing on this scene or not, but the fact that I saw their joke before I saw Tequila Sunrise completely changed this “romantic interlude” into “unintentional comedy.”

 Honestly, I could probably belabor this scene for days and days. I have a pre-recorded rant about how gross hot tub sex is that I can unleash at any time, and I’m also always prepared to discuss how time has changed the idea of having sex with the (still handsome) Gibson from “very appealing” to “existentially horrifying.” But unleashing either diatribe seems like it would be overkill, because I’m sure most people already understand both points. You probably get why that scene is funny whether or not you’ve seen Operation Righteous Cowboy Lightning. You probably understand why it’s hilarious to watch a beautiful woman commit acts of lust with a Nazi-ish nutso inside a petri dish of human effluvium while an 18 minute sax solo plays on the soundtrack. (So, so much sax in this movie.) You probably get why I can’t flunk this movie, even though it’s pretty bad on a pretty basic level.

 Mel Gibson’s Sex Jacuzzi 4eva, y’all.

Winner: Draw

Tequila Sunrise on IMDB