Film Review: Tango & Cash (1989)


1980s Hollywood celebrated masculinity to the extremes many today would describe as “toxic”. It was quite fitting that the decade closed with a film that would embody such testosterone overload – buddy cop action comedy Tango & Cash, directed by Andrei Konchalovsky.

The protagonists are two Los Angeles narcotics detectives that happen to be very different. Lieutenant Raymond Tango (played by Sylvester Stallone) works in Beverly Hills, wears Armani suits, makes huge amounts of money on stocks and commodities markets and the only reason why he remains policeman is “desire for action”. Lieutenant Gabriel Cash (played by Kurt Russell) wears cheap clothes and lives in downtown Los Angeles. Two men don’t like each other and consider themselves rivals, yet they still have something in common – they are very good at their work, enough to disrupt operations of the powerful narco boss Yves Perret (played by Jack Palance). His henchmen suggest to have them killed, but Perret has thought of better way to get rid of two policemen. He sets them both up for a crime they didn’t commit and, when faced with fabricated evidence, Tango and Cash listen to their attorneys’ suggestion and accept plea that would get them short sentence in minimum security prison. Perret has, however, bribed enough officials to have Tango and Cash transferred to maximum security prison whose population includes many dangerous and psychotic criminals they had put away. Two men soon realise that they must work together in order to survive and, under such conditions, survival means escape. After they are at large, they begin to search for evidence and witnesses that they would exonerate them. Things can get complicated when Cash gets attracted to Kiki (played by Teri Hatcher), attractive club dancer that lives in Tango’s home.

Critics didn’t like Tango & Cash and often described it as collection of most annoying buddy cop cliches and uninspired attempt to apply formula used in Lethal Weapon. Some of their complaints are merited, but the film is surprisingly good, at least considering the circumstances under which it was made. The production is quite messy, with film being shot with finished script, going twice over planned budget and set affected by constant quarrelling between director, producers, studio and Stallone. Andrei Konchalovsky, award-winning Russian director who had tried to make career in Hollywood after defecting from Soviet Union, was most likely the wrong choice for this project and his intention to turn Tango & Cash into serious police film didn’t sit well with everyone else, who had wanted something more light-hearted. Konchalovsky was fired at the set and replaced by Albert Magnoli; film got its final form only in post-production thanks to famed editor Stuart Baird. The result of all that chaos can be seen on the screen; the bloated budget reflects in over-the-top action scenes that feature plenty of pyrotechnics and stunt work. That includes final showdown featuring protagonists and their armoured vehicle having to fight their way through dozens of heavily armed monster trucks. Synthesiser soundtrack by Harold Faltermeyer, known for many 1980s hits, gets drowned in it and becomes the least memorable aspect of the film.

Tango & Cash, on the other hand, had decent box office results and this too can be easily explained. Film is entertaining enough, especially if the targetted audience has low expectations and doesn’t take it too seriously, or to be precise, not seriously at all. Whole plot is silly and Tango & Cash actually works better as a parody of buddy cop action films than buddy cop action film. Littered with one-liners (that are mostly forgettable) and jokes that don’t work, this film still has just enough jokes that work, even some showing participants’ sense of self-irony, like in the case of Stallone whose character makes fun of Stallone’s iconic character of Rambo. Stallone is good in his role, and same can be said of Kurt Russell, who is comfortable enough to appear in drag during the scene which is probably the most memorable in the film. Jack Palance is, on the other hand, wasted in one-dimensional scene of arch-villain. Teri Hatcher, whose character was introduced to serve as eye candy, does good job with her thankless role, which actually helped her future career. Film also feature many great character actors, like James Hong or Marc Alaimo (later famous as Gul Dukat in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). Michael J. Pollard is effective as eccentric weapons engineer, while Brion James, specialised for role of villains, experiments by giving Cockney accent to the character of Perret’s henchman. In the end, Tango & Cash proves to be embodiment of everything people loved and hated about 1980s action cinemas and it could serve as guilty pleasure even to those that aren’t particularly nostalgic about the era.

RATING: 6/10 (++)

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