Tango & Cash Review

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by Chris McEneany Apr 28, 2009 at 12:00 AM

    Tango & Cash Review

    “FUBAR, big time!”

    Even during a cinematic era of inflated biceps, enormous bodycounts and more weaponry than can be found in downtown Mogadishu, the genre of the strenuously “hi-octane” cruelly overlooked one of its most cheerful and idiotic episodes when star-vehicle Tango & Cash was met with almost unanimous apathy in 1989. Beefed-up with action demigods Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell as the two rivalling titular LA cops, and (allegedly) directed without subtlety by bizarre choice of Russian Andrei Konchalovsky, the hyper-violent caper also packed in class act, Jack Palance, up-and-coming babe Teri Hatcher, cult genre faces such as Brion James and Michael J. Pollard and Hong Kong veteran James Hong into one of the most smirk-inducing Hollywood back-slaps ever made. Coming as it did after a veritable slew of buddy/cop pictures - good cop/bad cop, cop/criminal, Yank cop/Russian cop, human cop/canine cop, even live cop and zombie cop for God's sake - this one had to make up for its ten-a-penny formula with something special. Sadly, for all concerned, the error was in believing that “something special” should simply mean good, old fashioned fun.

    It had been done before, of course, with the big cop, big ego superstar bunk-up of City Heat back in 1984, starring Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds (and just when can we expect to see that on BD then, Warner?), but this was the new age of action-heroism - bigger muscles, bigger guns, bigger concepts and bigger budgets. Naturally, the big draw would have been to have gotten Sly and Arnie together for a shoot 'em up, but salaries would never have allowed for that. Thus, Sly, who was always going to be the main attraction was teamed-up with wise-cracking Kurt. With Big Trouble In Little China cementing his action credentials, but also establishing the fact that he has a tremendous sense of humour as well, Mr. Goldie Hawn actually becomes the most appealing thing about this major dose of all-out hokum. With him essaying the scruffy, long-haired maverick working out of a lower echelon precinct and policing the less salubrious quarter of the City of Angels in contrast to Sly's portrayal of the Armani-wearing, all-round slicker maverick with his own office within a much more swish cop-shop, the class divide and attitude dichotomy was the natural hook to bring these two mismatched detectives into one volatile scenario. We can't help but side more with Kurt's Gabriel Cash, though. He slobs out, eats pizza and takes nothing seriously, whilst Sly's Ray Tango plays the stock market, counts the calories, takes calls from his broker and dotes over-protectively on his raunchy dancing sister, Catherine, played by Teri Hatcher. Smug and self-satisfied, Tango is an irritating smart-ass who just happens to be a great headline-nabbing cop, as well. Cash flagrantly breaks the rules, has a gob that just won't quit, grins in the face of danger and enjoys an unsavoury addiction to the LAPD's prototype weapons arsenal. Neither can stand the other, believing themselves to be the best on the Force, but with the pair both carving up the precious empire of Palance's whispery mob-lord Yves Perret between them on a daily basis, the underworld finally turns on the super-cops and frames them for murder. Sent to prison and tossed in with the many scarred and despicable felons that they've captured down the line, the odd couple must work together, overcome their differences and escape the joint if they are to stand a chance of clearing their now disgraced names and taking Perret down once and for all.

    “If you don't wanna get sticky, get back, Jack!”

    To the accompaniment of Harold Faltermeyer's incessant synth-noodlings, Tango & Cash punches right through the credibility bubble and then sends itself up, up and away on a cloud of the totally self-conscious. And it is precisely because it is sending itself up in such a fantastical semi-parody fashion that many certified adrenaline-junkies stayed away from it droves. That and, I suppose, the fact that they had just seen Stallone busting-out of another violent and utterly corrupt prison in the very enjoyable Lock-Up and were not interested in seeing him do it all over again, albeit with a twinkle in his eye and wink at the camera this time around. Beginning a series of comedy-flops at roughly the same juncture did not do much for the Italian Stallion, either, although it was clear with Tango & Cash that he liked the lighter side of things. Having said that, though, he is saddled with the worst dialogue out of the two of them, even finding himself pressed into ribbing his own infinitely more successful screen incarnation of Rambo, who, according to Ray Tango was, ahem, “a pussy.” Some platitudes are clumsily delivered and there are a few occasions when he is forced to verbally traverse what, to him, sound like tongue-twisters. Have a listen to him bleating those early lines out to the copper-chopper whirling about overhead as he pursues a “major moving violation” to see just how uncomfortable he sounds with lines that aren't simply macho grunts or slowly growled threats. Russell, on the other hand, seems perfectly within his comfort zone at all times, zapping wisecracks by the second as though his mouth is locked on full-auto. Playing Cash was obviously a breeze but, then again, he does get to be the ladies' man of the show.

    Ahh, yes ... which, of course, brings us to the delectable Teri Hatcher.

    Cavorting on-stage in silver stockings and bashing a drum-machine in lousy time to Yazoo's immortal keyboard-classic Don't Go, she snatches the breath of more than just Cash and the posse of retarded cops trying to encircle him. However, her acting talents are rapidly airbrushed over as she becomes one of the most empty-headed and wafer-thin stereotypes in buddy/buddy land. The inevitable love affair that develops between her and Cash is almost literally vomit-inducing and made all the more unbearable by Stallone's terribly overcooked reaction to it all. But then this does allow for some eyebrow-raising innuendo to liven-up a five-minute stretch in which the bullets aren't flying and nobody's head gets kicked-in.

    The era of Glasnost was upon us, too. We'd had Arnie and Jim Belushi shaking hands across the Iron Curtain in Walter Hill's Red Heat and even this movie, no doubt in view of its Russian director, feels obliged to acknowledge the political turnaround with the ill-fitting comedy “aside” during Cash's ram-raid parking-lot pursuit of his would-be assassin. A Russki immigrant kicks up a stink as his car gets junked by a hot-headed Cash. “I came here for Perestroika!” he yells, informing the audience of something that many of them surely had no comprehension of. Scenes like this are a distraction even in a film that has already propelled itself right over the precipice of plausibility. Something similarly stupid happens in Lethal Weapon 2 when Riggs suddenly realises that LA has a subway, after blundering down onto the platform during a chase sequence. This tragically American way of nodding to the audience and letting them know that they are "up" on current events is utterly crass as far as I am concerned and doubly painful when you consider that someone actually sat down and wrote it.

    “I don't wanna get killed by this Limey, immigrant jerkoff! I wanna get killed by an American jerkoff!”

    Russell's 80's mullet is a work of art. Being a staunch advocate of the mullet (presently sporting a glorious Wolverine bouffant at the moment - and proud of it, folks), I find these things fascinating. Cash, no doubt associated to the truck driving/faded cowboy evolutionary offshoot populated by the likes of Gibbo's Lethal Martin Riggs, Swayze's Roadhouse bouncer Dalton and Russell's own hippy super-soldier Snake Plissken, struts about with such an arrogant and, indeed, flamboyant disregard for follicle fashion that he earns himself immediate hero status from me. Like Jeff Bridges before him, Russell is one of Hollywood's most professionally acceptable hair-heads, although it must be stated that he has also been known to shear it away to reveal a structurally perfect flat-top, as well. From one extreme to the other - no mean feat. However, on the evidence seen here, Russell in drag is a truly appalling sight, but even I can forgive his chunky brawn being barely concealed beneath a silky see-through shawl for his terrific one-fingered salute to the Law as he straddles, in a most un-ladylike fashion, Catherine's hog. And his later remark about his “pantihose riding up into the unknown” is priceless.

    “Don't you think you're getting a little radical here?”

    “ What's radical?”

    “Blowing a man's head off with a f*cking hand grenade is a touch much, don't you think?”

    “You got your way - I got mine.”

    The action is agreeably preposterous. Michael J. Pollard hams it up, quite badly I should add, as Cash's Q-style equipment guru, Owen, supplying the impetus for the grand finale with a gleaming “RV from Hell”. That this kamikaze run-around, that sees our vengeance-fuelled boys gunning all over their quarry's, well, quarry with all manner of off-road vehicles pursuing them, actually feels like padding tells you that the movie already moves pretty damn fast and crams in as much punch-ups, shoot-outs and chases as possible. By far the best bits are set in, around, beneath and above the prison. With the duo dragged down into the basement for some, ahem, less than pleasant inmate welcoming party, the film unleashes a patently absurd, yet totally satisfying series of brawls, tortures, pursuits and one of the most Herculean breakouts ever conceived. If the rain-lashed zip-wire run down an electric cable isn't unbelievable on its own, try that back-break of a landing on for size.

    “Cash, we're on fire!”

    “Yeah, we're cookin' now!”

    Brion James, replete with comedy ponytail - surely done just so that the two leads could poke fun at it - is lumped with one of the most idiotic and totally unnecessary cockney accents in the history of cinema as English hard-case, Requin. Come back Dick Van Dycke, all is forgiven ... well, almost. But this vowel-mangling attempt at verbal villainy is so, so “Fubar” that you just want to climb into the film and do more than just talk about Cash's grenade-toting plans A, B or C. That said, though, James - so good in Blade Runner and Southern Comfort - strikes quite a memorably nasty psycho. Just look at that maniacal grin as he lowers Tango into the “shock-bath” and his sadistic zeal at holding a cut-throat razor to Catherine's tender neck. Looking surprisingly intimidating despite that strawberry-ginger hairdo, he manages to switch from all-out panic to sheer blood-lust, the final skirmish revealing some neat moves. Speaking of neat moves, you've just got to love that windpipe-chop that Tango delivers to a black-garbed thug played by regular Stallone combatant and movie fight coordinator David Lea. Ouch!

    “Out on the streets, this pig with his cop friend, broke my ribs, my leg and my jaw.”

    “You broke that jaw?”

    Robert D'zar is another familiar - well, unforgettable - face. Knowingly called “Face” in the film, the massive chinned Desperate Dan-alike was the infamous Maniac Cop in the popular three-film series. Built like a bulkier Sonny (Predator) Landham, and bestowed with such a leering malevolence that you actually feel uncomfortable just looking at him on a TV screen, he could never play a good guy. His vastly menacing presence here is let down only by a horrifically girlie squeal of delight when he sees the two new prison-puppies that the warden has brought in for him and his cronies to play with. But he is definitely the kind of foe that could conceivably take on Stallone's Tango.

    “When the one great Scorer comes to write against your name, he'll mark ... not than you won or lost ... but how you played the game. What bulls**t!


    Of course, one actor whose presence - no matter how dire the movie - is always welcome is the redoubtable Jack Palance. As crime-boss Perret, this mouse-loving, coke-peddling trickster is a magnificent low-rent riff on the big Bondian arch-villains of yore. Sitting, high and mighty in his desert fortress and spit-spatting with his rather useless East and West mob lieutenants - played by James Hong and Marc Alaimo, respectively - he spends his time watching frustrating footage of Tango & Cash crashing his organisation on a ridiculous amount of TV screens and warbling on about his boo-hiss scheme of revenge. Only Palance could make this thoroughly one-note fiend both wicked and amusing. Rarely a man to lose his cool on-screen, Palance, nevertheless, allows Perret to shiver in rage and consternation as his two enemies continue to thwart his best efforts to keep them penned-in. Uttering silly lines but peppering them with such relish - like “Ray Tango. How he loves to dance. He waltzes in and takes all my drugs, then tangos back out again,” and, regarding Cash's impact on his business, “How many millions? How many?” - he makes Perret almost sympathetic in a panto-style wicked sister way. It's a stupid plot, for sure, but we can see how getting back at these two matters to him on a purely personal level. It is also worth noting that Warner favourite and Clint Eastwood pal, Geoffrey Lewis, ambles aboard as Tango's long-suffering Captain. Filling the shoes of the quintessential harassed boss is an out and out cliché, as we know, but Lewis somehow manages to absorb the risible nature of such a corny role and spit it back out with a genuine sense of withered humour.

    This non-stop assembly-line of retorts, quips and one-liners comes courtesy of Randy Feldman. Who, you ask? Exactly. Well, what this guy, who would go on to supply something to the screenplay for JCVD's Nowhere To Run, although doesn't exactly have much of a track record beyond that, actually does for Tango & Cash is merely provide more rat-a-tat vocal ammunition for the two stars to spout than all the bullets of the amassed weaponry either have ever fired throughout their entire combined careers. In fact, he scatters so much sparky stuff from their lips that, in his haste for staccato banter, he tends to forget that he often repeats jokes, mixes them up and issues them from other guy's mouth and renders such drawn-out witticisms painfully thin in the process. However, it is impossible not to giggle at such inane observations as “Dykes on bikes,” or “Did you bump-uglies with my sister?” And the infamous phrase Fubar, naturally, became cool as quicksilver.

    Effects are steadfastly back in the exaggeration-phase of sound-mixing. Gunshots are often ridiculously over-done, sounding like the strangely complicated hand-held explosions heard in Walter Hill's 48 Hrs, which is another movie that this seeks to emulate in its combination of out-of-place humour and staggering violence. The fire-power on show in this film also goes way over the top. Perret's illegal gun-running leads us to a warehouse full of the most ludicrous prop department-enhanced assault rifles that gun-lovers ever clapped their red-misted eyes on. Imagine a pulse-rifle on steroids and you're coming close to the massive lumps of bullet-filled metal that our two top-cops sport for the final battle. But Cash's insistence on red laser sights quickly wears thin. Remember that telescopic sight Snake had on his Magnum revolver in Escape From New York? Well this gimmick, swiped from James Cameron's first Terminator, is just as lame.

    But, basically, I love this flick. I can't defend it on so many levels, but on, perhaps, the most important one - that of sheer entertainment value - it comes up trumps every time. Insanely contrived, hack-written and bursting with moments that just make you roll your eyes in cringing dismay - that love interest guff is truly hideous, folks - Tango & Cash is still a tremendous way to spend a couple of hours. The two stars are having fun and the film feels ebullient, daft and tongue in cheek which, coming at the mid-section of the BIG ACTION TREND, with the likes of Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme just about to make their own mark and kick their way into the nineties, was something of a relief from the more po-faced testosterone-fests pummelling about at the time. Rumours still abound about who actually directed the film. Whilst Konchalovsky's name appears in the credits, there were sackings and walk-outs by people behind the camera right from the start, so it is not beyond the realms that this helter-skelter romp was put together by committee. But if this is the case, it doesn't hamper in any way, shape or form, the carnival vibe of “anything goes” that makes it so endearing.

    “There's a lot of new pollution in the sky tonight ... and they call it Perret!”

    Come again, Sly?

    Now released on this bare-bones Blu-ray from Warner Bros, this is the perfect time to recall the hi-concept, low-IQ insanity of the eighties. Pure cheese from start to explosive finish - but great fun.

    The Rundown

    OUT OF
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