Sunset (1988)

Sunset (1988)


Legendary lawman Wyatt Earp (James Garner, Victor/Victoria) arrives in Hollywood, circa 1929, to supervise a movie about his life. Earp quickly establishes a friendship with the star of the movie, matinée idol Tom Mix (Bruce Willis, Die Hard). When a murder occurs, Earp and Mix team up to solve the crime.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Blake Edwards’s career had an interesting dichotomy. He alternated between lighthearted material (Breakfast At Tiffany’s and The Pink Panther series) and serious projects (Days of Wine and Roses and Experiment in Terror). It was only natural that at some point in his career, Edwards began mixing humor with sober drama and vice versa. Sunset is a whodunit laced with humor.

Sunset only works sporadically, though. The script has some problems — Edwards has an annoying tendency to leave things unexplained. I did like how Edwards’s screenplay mixes fact with fiction — it’s fun to see real-life people interact with fictional characters.

James Garner’s down-to-earth charm helps a great deal (he had played Earp in John Sturges’s 1967 western Hour of the Gun). Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange) and M. Emmet Walsh (Blood Simple) are good villains. However, Mariel Hemingway (Manhattan) is misdirected and Kathleen Quinlan (Apollo 13) is underused.

Patricia Hodge (The Elephant Man), who plays McDowell’s long-suffering wife, has a lovely screen presence. Bruce Willis is, however, phoning it in — he looks completely disinterested. He did much better in Edwards’s Blind Date.

Terrific sets and Patricia Norris’s Oscar-nominated costumes add cache to the production — it’s a gorgeous-looking period piece. Nice music score by Henry Mancini (Breakfast At Tiffany’s and The Pink Panther) and glistening cinematography by Anthony B. Richmond (The Man Who Fell to Earth).

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

I wanted to like Sunset more — the movie-within-movie thing appeals to me — but it is a bit lifeless. It is not a total waste, though. Movie buffs will enjoy the references to old Hollywood.  Overall, Sunset is flawed but amusing and Garner is a bundle of charm. Dermot Mulroney’s (My Best Friend’s Wedding and August: Osage County) film début. Color, 102 minutes, Rated R.

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