For years private eye Ryder Hart lived on the edge. Tonight he'll cross the line.
Sunset Grill, also known as 'Peter Weller with a moustache', is an early 90's crime/action/thriller that feels about five years late on the scene. Stone washed jeans and Mexicans over the border themes were very of the 80's. That being said, this is a solid (if slightly over-long at 104 minutes) movie that treads the same boards we've walked many times before. It does it pretty well so there's no harm in doing it all again - after all, this is a blog dedicated to movies that half the time share the same three or four stories.
Peter Weller is Ryder Hart (awesome name), a disgraced ex-cop now Private Investigator with the aforementioned moustache. He's a stumbling drunk, is estranged from his wife who now sleeps with his best friend, he lives in squaller and hangs out at a bar called The Sunset Grill, owned by his ex wife. The film starts with him on a routine case spying on a cheating wife with a long range camera, drinking whisky from the bottle with a straw. The opening scene makes you think the film will be more comedic than it turns out to be with angry husbands bursting through closed doors; in fact outside of a few lines here and there is a fairly intentionally humourless movie. In many cases that can make for hard viewing but I was satisfied with the end results here - not overly amazed and I won't be re-watching it in any haste, but all the loose ends were tied up nicely and I'm not left with a bitter taste in my mouth, which is more than can be said for a lot of movies from the early 90's.
Besides, I said intentionally humourless; there's plenty of unintentional humour to enjoy here. The moustache for one. The sex scenes are pretty amusing too, probably due to the soft focus lens and, well, that moustache again. Weller in a cowboy hat and leather jacket, driving a huge American car and hurling whisky bottles is gold. Weller in a pink, backwards-facing baseball cap trying to work a coffee machine is just ridiculous. John Rhys-Davies' attempt at a Scottish accent is ludicrous, as was his racist attitude to 'beaners'. Weller attempting to hide in the nut-house section of a hospital is probably actually a funny scene that was intentional. Overall though if you are getting this to laugh at with your mates over beers you will probably be disappointed. If you want a funnier and more action-packed Weller, check out Shakedown.
We learn early on that Hart is separated but not divorced from his wife Anita who now just pities him after he has hit the bottle hard and lost his career due to the death of his father-in-law that he blames himself for. We also see in Tijuana a scared Mexican kid Guillermo running from a mad, tall blond guy and his rat-like sidekick. He manages to post a letter to Hart but soon after he is caught and his head crushed. The letter arrives at the Sunset Grill but Hart brushes it to one side. Later that evening when Anita is closing up shop she is attacked and killed by the blond guy and his henchman who are looking for the letter, but they do not find it. Hart sees this on the news and after coming to terms with his grief, puts his PI shoes back on, opens the letter from Guillermo and tries to both locate who killed his wife and what the strange barcodes in the letter mean.
Lori Singer is in this (from Footloose but more importantly in Julian Sands' awesome Warlock) as Loren, a hottie that works for Harrison Shelgrove (Stacy Keach), the owner of a gun club and more importantly a specialist hospital, which is crucial to the plot. She gets involved with Weller as well. Yes that does mean she gets her kit off, more than once I might add. Other players in the movie are the previously mentioned John Rhys-Davies (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Sliders) is also here as a corrupt cop that both arrests illegals and trades them. Danny Trejo has a brief appearance as the "Young Mexican" who tries to shiv Weller but gets beaten up by him instead. The one that stumped me was the Doctor who is apparently played by Randy Pelish, but I could have sworn it was Roy Brocksmith, the Doctor from Total Recall. The similarities are pretty astounding, I thought, especially the voice.
The trailer below will have you believe this is a gritty revenge movie, but it's not really. Hart is out to find his wife's killer, but he is also a PI trying to find out why these Mexicans are being killed and their organs removed. The puzzle is larger than the individual pieces, as it were. Cryptic notes are deciphered that help Hart climb the ladder to truth and as the movie goes on he learns more about his friends and associates, and their involvement in an underground people-trafficing ring with dark consequences. There is a bit of a noir feeling too with some of the shots I felt; close ups of Weller talking to the screen while talking to someone behind him, smoking a dangling cigarette. There's of course some action, mainly a few shootouts and punchups but no car chases, which was a shame.
This is an enjoyable movie when you want something less silly and more serious. It's not serious in a Schindler's List way but it's definitely not played for laughs. Recommended.
Solid 16:9 enhanced widescreen presentation that isn't overly sharp, colourful or brilliant but it gets the job done. Dark scenes aren't too murky. The sound is fine but Weller tends to blur his speech when he mumbles which can make for a few cases of 'what was that?'. Runtime 104 minutes.
eBay for a couple of bucks; the site is littered with them and as far as I can tell Region 1 is your only choice. Also available in a three-pack with low-budget crime movie Scorpion Spring and Dennis Hopper's Eye of the Storm.