Must be the ‘stache: “Sunset Grill”

May 13, 2011

I know that just a few posts ago I waxed rhapsodic about Peter Weller’s ability to bring the awesome to any movie he’s in, but…wow…Sunset Grill. I mean, that’s like bringing a bottle of pledge to the Deepwater Horizon rig spill. Hey, don’t get me wrong: Peter Weller is still the best thing in this slab of cheese from the pump-and-dump video days of the early ‘90s (Lori Singer’s breasts are a close second), but he can’t do much to rehabilitate the proceedings. A good chunk of the reason, as I see it, is because he’s traded in that awesome Leviathan hair for a rockin’ cop mustache. Now the ‘stache is good—let’s be clear: I’m not dissing the ‘stache—but it just doesn’t have the superhuman powers of the hair. And that’s why Sunset Grill is so ludicrous. That, and the fact that the script and the direction and much of the acting are all inane.

In Sunset Grill, Weller plays Rider Hart, a down-on-his-luck private eye first shown spying on a well-endowed blonde energetically cheating on her husband, while he swigs Jack Daniels like Mountain Dew at a Nascar rally. The surveillance goes hilariously wrong, and we quickly learn that Rider is pretty much a professional screw-up. Through some clumsy exposition we also learn that he’s an ex-cop who left the department after running a sting operation on a crooked S&L (remember those? No? Kids, ask your parents) that inadvertently snared his father-in-law. Naturally, this tanked his marriage. His father-in-law committed suicide, and Rider’s been in a free-fall ever since. Wow. That’s more backstory than this movie needs or deserves.

Rider lives in a pad that looks as if a couple of frat guys spent a booze-and-whippet-fueled weekend  destroying it. His only human companionship is his ex (Alexandra Paul), who gently tolerated his booze-soaked drop-ins at her restaurant (the titular Sunset Grill). She’s in a relationship with Hart’s former partner, and he’s planning to propose to her (despite punching way above his weight with a hottie like Alexandra Paul in her Baywatch prime). Just when it seems like Hart can’t fall any lower, Paul is murdered by a couple of thugs who break into the grill one night searching for one of the undocumented busboys who work there.

Next thing he knows, Hart is embroiled in a violent affair involving the mysterious vanishing of illegal immigrants off the streets of L.A. Naturally, this expands to include unrelated crap like organ-harvesting, embezzlement, and, ah, illegal trafficking in Mayan artifacts. It all kinda fits together in the end. No, that’s a lie, it really doesn’t. But, hey, we also get plenty of nude Lori Singer as the least-convincing femme fatale since Michelle Williams imped her way through Deception.

In the meantime, Weller mostly staggers, bullies, grouses, and generally acts like a dick to everyone around him, all the while slamming whiskey like it was Gatorade. He also chain-smokes, which seems dangerous, since his liver might explode into flames at any moment. This is also a good time to point out that Weller as a dick isn’t much fun. He’s fun as a hero, and even fun as an arch-villain, but as a dick, you’re just left wondering why people put up with him. Must be the ’stache.

The production values on this flick are bargain-basement, with exteriors that seem to consist mostly of abandoned Hollywood alleys, and a score than I’m pretty sure was performed on a keytair. The acting—even by experienced guys like Stacy Keach and John Rhys-Davies alternated between wooden and all over the map. I’m not entirely sure there was actually a director present when the scenes were shot. As a matter of fact, I strongly suspect that this whole production was only a tax-dodge or a means of laundering money being funneled to the PLO.

You want evidence? Here’s a list of some of the Did I Just F@$%ing See That moments:

DIJFST1: Hart is a cop who uses a BB gun (“A gun’s a gun” he shrugs, which, you know, you wouldn’t expect a cop to believe). He’s also maybe a rodeo star. He’s also a coffee connoisseur. Okay, these things don’t gel and they don’t create a credible character, just a walking collection of random traits.

DIJFST2: The bad guy kills Alexandra Paul by crushing her skull with his bare hands. This, uh…I’m pretty sure this is impossible.  Plus he had a gun, so I dunno…maybe he really wanted to work his biceps and triceps.

DIJFST3: When Hart discovers her body, Paul’s head is completely intact. Guess they didn’t want to waste a perfectly good Alexandra Paul.

DIJFST4: Hart spends an entire scene discussing Paul’s murder while wearing a pink ZZ Top trucker cap! You read that right: Pink. ZZ Top. Trucker. Cap. I mean, that choice of clothing alone has more mystery contained in it than a Zen koan.

DIJFST5: Almost all of the flashbacks are signified by the screen going all waaavvvyyy. Holy crap, is it 1976 again?

DIJFST6: A half-in-the-bag Hart bests Danny Trejo in a street fight. Must be the ‘stache.

DIJFST7: John Rhys-Davies shows up as a corrupt Irish INS agent (huh?) His brogue wavers into New England accent territory. He’s like the bruising Kennedy the rest of the family pays reporters not to talk about.

DIJFST8: Hart’s guide to the underworld of LA’s illegal immigrant population is a dude named Ramon. Ramon is whiter than Weller is, and wears a newsboy cap. He can also vanish dramatically when other characters turn away. He’s like a Magical Caucasian Latino.

DIJFST9: Hart lassoes JRD in one scene. Lassoes. Like a bull. I kid you not.

DIJFST10: Hart walks in on Lori Singer as she undresses and shouts questions at her. She keeps undressing then gets into a bath. Hart joins her, still shouting questions. They kiss. Must be the ‘stache.

DIJFST11: Hart sprints down a street, escaping some bad guys, and finally doubles over, panting, out of breath. The scene abruptly waaavves to a flashback of him plowing Alexandra Paul. WTF? I mean, yeah, it’s a good opportunity to see Alexandra naked in the most gratuitous nude scene ever, but still…WTF?

DIJFST12: Hart uses a fax machine to track down a clue. Not the movie’s fault, but…a fax machine? Bwahahahahaha! Why doesn’t he just use a teletype…hee hee hee…

Okay, so that’s Sunset Grill. Thankfully, Weller walked away unscathed to torture Jack Bauer and liven up Star Trek: Enterprise, and teach Renaissance Art at Syracuse University. Must be the ‘stache.

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