The year is 1929 and in Hollywood Tom Mix (Bruce Willis) is one of the biggest names in the movies thanks to his Western roles, but a studio boss, Alfie Alperin (Malcolm McDowell), who used to be a comedy star in silent films, is trying to persuade him to take the lead as Wyatt Earp in a film about the gunfight at the OK Corral. Mix is sceptical that either his fans would want to see such a thing, or that he himself would want to play an existing cowboy here, especially as Earp (James Garner) is still alive, but Alperin is insistent and confident that he will take the role. To persuade him, he invites the real Earp to the studio to meet with Mix, none of them realising the trouble that will erupt...
Taking quite a few liberties with history, Sunset was Blake Edwards' tribute to the Hollywood of old, but given he had offered the world S.O.B., a lambasting of modern Tinseltown, at the start of the decade, perhaps he wasn't quite as sentimental about the place as you might have thought when you heard the premise of this. Indeed, Edwards' grudge against the powers that be in the film landscape was pretty plain in the Alperin character, who quickly turns out to be the plot's outright villain, obviously played by an British actor because that's the way popular American would-be blockbusters were going. Such a scoundrel is he that you could regard this as a score-settling exercise for Edwards.
Another one. As it turned out, nobody was all that interested in watching Sunset since the phase of modern movies recreating the past would not get into the swing of things for about fifteen or twenty years once Titanic hit, and besides accuracy was a problem if you knew anything about the era, which must have ruffled the feathers of the sticklers for detail. Wyatt Earp was dead by the time the action begins, and even if he hadn't would have been in his eighties therefore not in the greatest of shape to be running around town with his two fists and his six gun, bedding young women and generally acting as if he were still active in the Wild West. That said, Garner offered the best performance in the film, having gotten the idea better than, say, Bruce Willis.
According to Garner there was no love lost between him and his co-star, which suggests his latter day sleepwalking through his lazy action roles was nothing new by any means, and you can see there's nothing gelling between the two men's acting techniques as Willis barely made any attempt to behave as a nineteen-twenties movie star would, he was Mister Eighties all the way. Fortunately, although top-billed it was his colleague Garner who had most of the screen time, which compensated for a mystery narrative that wasn't really for when a murder occurred we could tell who the bad guys were almost immediately. Therefore the rest of the experience was a ho hum plod through recreations of past Hollywood (the production design was tip top, at least) and fistfights breaking out.
Earp (who in real life was a friend of Mix's for a number of years) feels protective towards Alperin's wife Christina (Patricia Hodge) so when the boss reveals his true colours we are aware he is on Earp's radar, and with him and his shady pals in the police and gangland connections it's a matter of the two heroes fighting back and bringing him to justice. This aspect makes a confused allusion to the unresolved William Randolph Hearst scandal which involved Charlie Chaplin, only here it was the Chaplin character who was the bad guy: McDowell and his stunt double got to put on a brief skit for the inaugural Academy Awards sequence which was very odd. Not half as odd as Edwards opting for the slasher flick finale to his opus, well, it was the eighties but not every thriller had to climax with the killer coming back to life to attack the good guy, in spite of what occurs here. With Mariel Hemingway as the love interest for Garner perhaps this adhered closer to tired Hollywood conventions than it might have admitted, but it fell flat in spite of making Earp and Mix dashing crusaders. Music by Henry Mancini.