Stallone Month: Tango & Cash

Tango & Cash is somewhat of a watershed moment for the excessive 1980s style of action flick. It’s so ridiculous and over-the-top that a viewer could be forgiven if they thought this film was a spoof. It is not. However, it is an excellent example of what can go right and wrong in an action film, and in film productions in general.

From 1989, Tango & Cash was mostly directed by famed Russian filmmaker Andrei Konchalovsky. But then he got fired during filming. After that the movie was directed by a gaggle of men whose names didn’t make the credits. The film was mostly written by Randy Feldman, but then there were endless rewrites during production that were handled by Jeffrey Boam, and oftentimes, if the internet is to be believed, star Sylvester Stallone and some of the other performers in the film. A production that was supposed to take weeks instead took months, with the budget ballooning to twice its allotment. There were long days and nights, frazzled nerves and tempers, and a star in Sly Stallone that would not let this movie die.

This is a film that was hardly nailed down when filming started, and was plagued by animosities and differences of opinion as to the film’s direction. That’s how we viewers ended up with a film that has many tonal shifts, sometimes from scene to scene. Normally all the drama that goes on behind the camera is of little concern to either viewers or hobbyist critics, but having some knowledge of the troubles this film encountered does much to contextualize the mess that is Tango & Cash.

Sly plays Ray Tango, a lieutenant in the LAPD. He’s the Gordon Gekko of cops. He hunts down criminals in tailored suits and spends his free time on the phone with his broker in New York. He’s a rich and successful man, but there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction that comes with busting up some bad guys. His opposite in the LAPD is Gabe Cash (Kurt Russell), another lieutenant who is about as blue collar as blue collar can get. Where Tango is buttoned-down, Cash is wild. Tango loves his suits and his perfectly styled hair, while Cash gets along fine with scraggly hair, old jeans, and a pair of cowboy boots. The boots must have sentimental value, because Cash looks like he’s on ice when he tries to run while wearing them. That’s no efficient way to chase down the baddies.

These two wild cops are the best the LAPD has. Their arrests and drug hauls are enough to make the front pages of the city’s papers. Millions upon millions of dollars of drugs have been taken off of the streets because of these two. This annoys crime lord Yves Perret (Jack Palance) to no end. Perret has a lair from where he directs his crime empire. He seethes over Tango and Cash, and hatches a plan to frame them for murder. After their credibility is destroyed and they are locked behind bars, Perret and his cartel can get back to business.

Stallone and Russell are the stars of this film, and actually have a decent amount of chemistry. But Palance is precious. He hovers over the events of the film, cruel and Machiavellian. He also plays his part to the hilt. Palance has been dead for a while, now, and his last relevant work was in the ’90s, but if a viewer hasn’t seen him play a bad guy, I recommend seeing him do so. Perhaps in this film.

I can’t tell how serious Palance was playing his role. He’s just so absurd. He’s a cartoonish villain, but that’s nothing unusual in movies. There’s just something about Palance’s growl and his Arctic stare that conveys both serious intensity and caricature. Perhaps this dichotomy in his performance was the result of the conflicts between producers, star, and director about the tone of the film, or maybe it was just Palance being Palance. Either way, he was lively.

Early on this film sets itself up as a buddy cop flick along the lines of Lethal Weapon. Then it’s a prison break flick. After that is when it appears the production lost focus. The buddy cop aspect is still the foundation of the film, but the last act stole just about everything from a James Bond film. The only thing missing was uniforms for Perret’s henchmen. I don’t think I’ve seen a movie fall apart in the second half as spectacularly as Tango & Cash since the last time I watched Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Despite that, and the endless supply of cliché and tropes, Tango & Cash is stupid fun right up until they bust out of prison. That makes it a better movie than Alien: Resurrection, at least.