Out on the Florida coast, fishing trips for the tourists, especially the wealthier tourists, can be lucrative and a fine way to earn a living, but in this small harbour town there is one top dog, Nichol Dance (Warren Oates), who sees to it that nobody muscles in on his act. But one of his employees, Tom Skelton (Peter Fonda), has plans to strike out on his own, though Nichol's boss Carter (Harry Dean Stanton) is more keen on him staying within the fold, and today as Nichol heads off on his annual try to kill himself as his depression takes hold again, Skelton follows to bring him home. However, once back in the town, the fishing captain attacks one of his employees with a boat hook and winds up in jail...
At least, that's what seems to be happening, as 92 in the Shade and coherence were not really on speaking terms, no matter that most of the movie was taken up with characters gabbing at each other. The trouble was the director, Thomas McGuane, a man who had built a cult following for his novels and parlayed that into a screenwriting career that was similarly amassing such an appreciation. Rancho Deluxe might not have set the box office tills a-ringing, but it did generate acclaim from the right kind of people, therefore Britain's ITC sensed an opportunity and financed a film that he would write and helm himself, drawn from his own book. However, to say the rewards were almost non-existent would indicate how well it ultimately did.
In fact, so desperate were ITC to see any profit at all that they recut the film with a happy ending and re-released it about five years later, whereupon it flopped once again, and you could see why as it was a seriously niche project, made even more exclusive among McGuane fans by his obvious lack of ability with assembling a story for the screen. It would be all too easy to sit through this from start to finish and not only be unclear as to what was supposed to be going on, but also who anybody in the movie was, not to mention their relationship to one another, which frankly was the state of mind most of those who gave it a try were in after about ten minutes. What was apparent was a grudge between Skelton, Dance and Carter.
This had come about when Skelton had been out in the boat with a wealthy couple for fishing, when he went out to fetch a catch they had improbably been able to snare they were gone on his return. He spent the rest of the day trying to track them down, fearing the worst, but when he got back to the bar there they were, having a drink because their custom had been poached by his colleagues. This led to Skelton blowing up Nichol's boat in what could be termed an over-reaction, and when he announces he is going to start his own business, Nichol announces that if he does, he will shoot him dead. Now, given the rest of the movie is so laid back it's horizontal, it was baffling that these friends should suddenly resort to violence, especially when otherwise, even after the boat explosion, they are tolerant and courteous. Therefore the rest of the story takes the journey for Skelton as he winds down, unsure whether he will die or not.
But evidently drawing his life to some form of conclusion he may or may not move on from. And if you were not sure, the matter of two alternate endings depending on which version you were watching did not exactly clear the conundrum up. The thing was, this had a top notch cast, Fonda and Oates had a real spark in the films they made together, and they had strong support from a gallery of cult players, not just Stanton but also Margot Kidder as Skelton's hippy schoolteacher girlfriend, Elizabeth Ashley as the most eccentric character, Dance's wife, Burgess Meredith as Skelton's rich grandfather getting it on with secretary Sylvia Miles (!), William Hickey as Skelton's deadbeat dad, and even Joe Spinell as a boorish tourist. What aficionado of the more out there cinema would not want to see that? And some did appreciate it, but in spite of the cast's charisma, 92 in the Shade was a shapeless waste it was impossible not to realise was a lost cause as soon as McGuane was hired as director. However, in the real world, he divorced his wife, Fonda married her, and Kidder married McGuane, producing a child, then divorced him a year later. Now, there's a movie! Music by Michael J. Lewis.