Tango & Cash (1989)
Release Date: December 22nd, 1989 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Andrei Konchalovsky Actors: Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell, Teri Hatcher, Jack Palance, Brion James, James Hong, Marc Alaimo, Michael J. Pollard, Robert Z’Dar, Lewis Arquette
etective Ray Tango (Sylvester Stallone) calls off an offer of backup, intending to take down an oil tanker all by himself. “Whatever you’re going to do, do it now,” says the helicopter escort, who hovers overhead, unconcerned with letting the criminals know they’re being surveilled, and caring little about the lack of jurisdiction. After shooting out the windshield and causing the drivers to crash onto the pavement, Tango reveals that the truck is actually hauling narcotics.
Within these first few minutes, the film unveils so many action movie tropes that it’s difficult to keep track of them all. From catchphrases, to drug busts, to references to other movies, to a condescending captain, to angry fellow officers, there’s almost nothing about these opening moments that hasn’t been seen in every other buddy-cop pairing of the ’80s. Meanwhile, Detective Gabriel Cash (Kurt Russell) is nearly assassinated by an Asian goon, who is then captured and tortured by the loose-cannon LAPD officer while a lawyer is en route. And, of course, Cash’s associates turn a blind eye to the violations and mistreatment (so too will the audience, since the crook is clearly guilty).
Although Tango is a fashionable, educated man (who chases baddies for the “good old American action”), and Cash is a rugged, sloppy, aggressive thug (and glory-hound) from the other side of the city, they’re about to be teamed up for specific cinematic purposes. Drug kingpin Perret (Jack Palance) isn’t happy about the millions he’s losing from the busts by these two policemen, desperately needing them out of the picture. But killing them would create martyrs; instead, his master plan is to frame them for murder, which should place the duo behind bars long enough to recoup and rebuild his criminal empire. Apparently, there are no other decent, unbribable cops in Los Angeles to take their place.
Although the film is incredibly generic, there are a couple of things it does right. Firstly, Stallone and Russell are entirely watchable as two larger-than-life juggernauts portraying the same cheeky tough-guy characters they always play in their action-oriented works. Secondly, the tone is consistently lighthearted. They continue to bicker, crack wise, approach every scenario with sarcasm, and maintain a childish playfulness through thick and thin. This helps when the severity and the related violence of their ordeals grow too unbeatable. But there is, as expected, an undeniable insincerity in their predicaments, especially when they’re imprisoned in the general population section of a maximum security prison, where Perret arranges a torturous welcoming party.
“Well nothing’s going to happen to me!” Rather than solving problems with intelligence, the musclebound twosome are either saved in the knick of time, or encounter a bit of luck with their hasty schemes. Of course, in movies like this, it’s always more enjoyable to see the heroes succeed. Having them bloodied and beaten with too much regularity stymies the fun of largely invincible he-men besting the various systems of corruption against which they do fantastical battle.
They’re joined by a number of recognizable faces, including Teri Hatcher as a love interest, Brion James as a ponytailed English henchman, James Hong as a gangster, Clint Howard as a crazed lifer, Michael J. Pollard as a Research and Development tech (the equivalent of Bond’s “Q”), and Robert Z’Dar as an inmate with an impossibly colossal chin, though the excess of characters rarely adds to the excitement. It also doesn’t help that extra comic relief comes from Russell in drag (a terribly unconvincing maneuver), and minor characters acting in exaggerated manners to convey nervousness or agitation, or merely to display annoying idiosyncrasies. The running time could have been tighter too, wth action and stunts arriving more regularly, while the villain can’t quite find an avenue of originality. But the humor is just goofy enough to compensate, particularly as the conclusion devolves into a monster truck rally, Perret running out of bodyguards and turning into the Man with the Golden Gun, and Tango and Cash figuratively becoming rats in a giant maze (something the bad guy toys with to prove he’s unhinged).
– Mike Massie