Thursday, May 21, 2020

Film Appreciation - An Aversion to Getting FUBAR

Cody Hamman looks back at 1989's Tango & Cash for Film Appreciation.

At one point, Patrick Swayze was signed on to star alongside Sylvester Stallone in the buddy cop movie Tango & Cash - but as cool as that pairing would have been, everything worked out for the best when Swayze decided to drop out of the project. He made the classic Road House instead, and Stallone's co-star ended up being Kurt Russell - who John Carpenter had turned into one of the greatest heroes of the '80s with his films The Thing, Escape from New York, and Big Trouble in Little China. Years later I would find out that Russell's '80s movies had a tendency to bomb at the box office, but that's not something I was aware of at all at the time. In my household, he was a beloved star who was on our TV screens regularly, in Big Trouble in Little China especially. So the idea of Russell sharing the screen with Rambo was something to get hyped about.

The result of the Stallone / Russell team-up is one of the most ridiculous action movies of the '80s, which seems appropriate given that it was one of the last movies released in that decade, reaching theatres on December 22, 1989.


The credits say the film was directed by Andrey Konchalovskiy from a screenplay by Randy Feldman, but that's not exactly true. Multiple script doctors were brought in to punch things up, and the film went through four directors over the course of the production. Konchalovskiy was fired for butting heads with producer Jon Peters over the tone of the film, with Peters wanting a lighter tone and Konchalovskiy wanting to do something serious. The winner of that battle is clear, because there is very little serious about Tango & Cash. Stallone's Rambo III director Peter MacDonald took the helm for a while, Stallone was apparently calling some of the shots (and got cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld fired and replaced by Donald E. Thorin), and the official replacement for Konchalovskiy was Albert Magnoli. The project went way over budget, and then there were more problems in post-production, as editor Robert A. Ferretti was replaced by Stuart Baird, and Baird ran into so many issues trying to cut the thing together to the studio's satisfaction that he had to bring on Hubert de La Bouillerie to help him out. Knowing all that, you would expect Tango & Cash to be a total mess... and maybe some would say that it is... but I enjoy it enough that I can brush aside any issues it may have.

The original script was titled The Set Up, and as bland as that title is it does fit what happens in the story. Stallone and Russell play Los Angeles cops Ray Tango and Gabriel Cash, respectively, guys who are very different from each other but both very good at their job. Tango is hoity-toity, likes to wear suits, and pays attention to the stock market. Cash is a blue collar fellow who gets upset when a shirt he paid $9 for gets a hole in it. They have both caused criminal kingpin Yves Perret (Jack Palance) to lose millions of dollars, possibly over a billion, by busting up his drug and weapon smuggling operations. So Perret decides to remove these thorns from his side.

Palance chews the scenery as Perret plots to have Tango and Cash framed as corrupt, setting them up to look like homicidal drug dealers. This guy is so powerful that once Tango and Cash are tossed in prison with a sentence of eighteen months, he's even able to stroll right into the place and taunt them to their faces. And then walk right out.

Tango & Cash was a big deal in the area I grew up in, because a substantial part of the running time takes place in the prison the title characters are locked up in, and the filming location for this prison was the old Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio. A place very close to where I lived. It was exciting that something like this was made so close to home, and someone I know even said they spotted Stallone and Russell in Mansfield during the production. A bunch of movies have been filmed at the Reformatory since then, Stallone even returned there for Escape Plan: The Extractors, but at the time this was quite out of the ordinary. Over time, it has gotten even cooler to me that Tango & Cash filmed at the old prison, because it's a place I have been inside of many times since then. They turn the Reformatory into a haunted house attraction in October, and I went there every October for twenty years.

Of course, Perret's plan to have Tango and Cash killed while they're behind bars doesn't work out. The disgraced cops have to escape from the prison and go on the run to clear their names and bring Perret down once and for all. In this endeavor they're assisted by Tango's younger sister Katherine (Teri Hatcher), who Tango is very protective of. So he's not too thrilled when Katherine, who makes her living doing an odd dancing and drumming routine, starts to become Cash's love interest. They also get some help from the ever quirky Michael J. Pollard as Owen, who basically plays the equivalent to James Bond's Q and gifts them with a vehicle Cash refers to as an "RV from Hell", a souped-up, armored, bulletproof SUV with a mini-gun mounted on the side. That comes in handy when Tango and Cash raid Perret's headquarters.


Pollard isn't the only notable character actor Stallone and Russell have to play opposite against in this movie; they're surrounded by them in here. There's James Hong, Geoffrey Lewis, Clint Howard, Eddie Bunker, Michael Jeter, and Lewis Arquette, with two prominent villains being played by Brion James (putting on a Cockney accent) and the Maniac Cop himself, Robert Z'Dar. Any movie that has Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell interacting with people like that has to be considered a classic. Just the fact that it has Stallone getting locked in a cell with Howard and fighting to the death with Z'Dar is enough to make it a must-see.

Tango & Cash has some great action sequences, including an unforgettable opening that involves a tanker truck and features Stallone speaking the line "Rambo is a pussy"; a smash-up in a parking garage that has both carnage and gratuitous nudity; that raid on Perret's base; and plenty of physical altercations. There is also a good amount of comedy, as Tango and Cash always have smartass quips ready for any situation.


The movie is a lot of fun, and I've thought so ever since I went with my parents to see it soon after it was released when I was six years old. My memory was that we saw it at a drive-in, as we did Road House the same year, but that must not have been the case, since it was released in December and you can't go to the drive-in in Ohio in December. We must have seen it at an in-door theatre, but regardless, I definitely saw it on the big screen. Many viewings on cable and VHS were to follow, and now I've got a copy of it on Blu-ray.

If you like mindless action entertainment, Tango & Cash has been delivering it for more than thirty years now.

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