Friday, February 19, 2010

TANGO & CASH (1989) - 4/5 stars

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Release: 1989
Director: Andre Konchalovsky
Writer: Randy Feldman
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell, Jack Palance, Teri Hatcher, Brion James, James Hong, Robert Z'Dar
Soundtrack: Harold Faltermeyer
Claim to fame: Four words - Stallone, Russell, shower scene.
Rating: 4/5 stars

Sylvester Stallone's acting in "Tango & Cash" is a lot like the movie itself: it goes so far beyond the stratosphere of bad that it comes out the other side, into something approximating genius. First of all, this flick's title, cover art, and premise would lead you to believe it's based on some cheesy 70's or 80's cop show - not to mention the intensely catchy, ready for primetime main theme. Guess what? IT'S NOT. Huh?!

Let's analyze the plot: Stallone and Kurt Russell play two LA cops who are different as night and day but are forced to get along if they want to catch the bad guys. Wait a minute. Other than the fact that Stallone dresses like a Wall Street hotshot and Russell dresses like a gym rat - these guys are exactly the same. They're both MAVERICK COPS who PLAY BY THEIR OWN RULES. Take notes because is the kind of thinking that has Hollywood in such a rut to this day.

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Two good cops...with bad attitudes. Is there enough room in LA for the both of them?

The movie would arguably have been much more compelling if Stallone had, say, embodied a more level-headed, by-the-book, more liberal (if you will) kind of cop, while Russell was the Bronson-esque enforcer of justice who did whatever it takes to get the criminals behind bars. It could have been like a microcosm of the 80's itself, with two wildly different views on law enforcement playing out in a big-budget action spectacle. But no. Considering that Stallone and Russell have both starred in movies that could be construed as wildly fascist ("Cobra" and "Dark Blue" respectively), I suppose that was out of the question the moment they signed on the picture. Okay, so they both gotta be hotshots. We get it.

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Would you even trust these guys to valet your car?

I think it's been scientifically proven that "Tango & Cash" has more one-liners per minute than any other movie ever written. Thankfully they're either at least mildly chuckle-worthy or they're so damn awful you just have to groan (at the same time you laugh inside). Russell's rapid fire delivery is particularly impressive and he tends to carry the movie's slower scenes based on his natural, smart-alecky charisma. This is Jack Burton we're talking about, after all.

Stallone…man, I love Stallone but his character in this flick is something else. He plays the most stuck up, prissy, Wall Street Journal-reading cop you could ever imagine. This is the kind of guy who holds his tea cup with his pinky finger sticking straight at you. And he's constantly got some asinine quip to deliver, in that stuck up, self-righteous "I went to Yale and you didn't" kind of tone. It's through the sheer force of Stallone's likable screen presence that this character is even watchable because, on paper, he reads like a total prick.

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Try not to giggle every time someone calls Stallone "Mr. Tango"

At one point Stallone's superior questions why Stallone stays on the job when he clearly has enough money to retire. Stallone claims it's all about the action. Thus begins this cringe-inducing exchange:

CAPTAIN SCHROEDER: If you really want to stare death in the eye, you shoulda gotten married.

TANGO: [laughs] Is that a proposal?

It's moments like these that you have to have the right technique. I usually brace my arms out in front of me, fists clenched, and employ yoga-like breathing techniques. That way you're taking the corny lines right into your body and dissipating them throughout your system so you can fully process them and move on. Trust me, it's a life saver.

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"Hey...we're still straight, right?"

Jack Palance is the villain. 1989 was a banner year for Mr. Palance. He played an evil gangster in both "Tango & Cash" and Tim Burton's "Batman." Although "Batman" went on to gross far more money than "Tango," Palance definitely has the better role in this one. He really seems to relish the chance to play a ridiculous , cartoon-y villain. Whenever he appears, he's either sitting in a leather chair, smoking a cigar or he's surrounded by a ton of billowing steam. And he spends the entire movie smacking his lips at every line, as though there's some lingering hickory smoke bar-b-q sauce he's trying to get at. I guess the scenery of "Tango & Cash" must just taste that good.

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Jack Palance - he never met a movie set he couldn't chew

Palance's go-to guy in this movie is the always-recognizable Brion James. If you've seen a movie, chances are Brion James was in it. No, seriously - he's been in everything: "48 Hours," "Blade Runner," "Silverado," "Red Heat," "The Quick and the Dead," "The Fifth Element." I could go on. Unfortunately, Brion had the bright idea to put on a fake cockney accent for this role and Stallone liked it so much that he rewrote the script and gave Brion a bigger part. So he's in a lot of the movie, with that terrible accent, but at least Stallone has a lot of fun mocking Brion's ponytail.

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Brion James argues with Stallone about who has the worst vocal affectation in the movie

And I would be amiss if I did not mention Robert Z'Dar's role in this movie. You might be asking yourself: Robert who? But Robert Z'Dar has the distinction of appearing in not one but two Mystery Science Theater 300 movies (the classic "Future War" and "Soul Taker"), though he doesn't have many lines in either. He also brought the titular role to life in "Maniac Cop," but Z'Dar was buried under a lot of make-up there.

What's great about "Tango & Cash" is that Z'Dar plays one of the main henchman and has a decent amount of lines. He even gets to tell Stallone he's gonna cut him a new asshole! That, uh, doesn't go over so well for Z'Dar, though. He delivers the line "Out on the streets, this cop and his pig friends/broke my leg, my ribs, and my jaw" like it's some kind of pirate-y, sing-song lyric. And he has the distinction of being the one baddie that Stallone and Russell both punch at the same time.

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Robert Z'Dar's character is aptly named "The Face" - no joke!

"Tango & Cash" gets even more interesting when you read about how troubled its filming was. See, nobody was happy with the script - but then went ahead and started making the movie anyway. Then Patrick Swayze dropped out of the picture. Yup, that's right, Patrick Swayze was originally cast in the Kurt Russell role. He decided to do "Road House" instead, I kid you not. Which is really for the better - I think Russell is more suited to this kind of role and since Swayze went on to do "Road House" we got two awesomely bad 80's movies for the price of one (and our souls).

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Don't worry, Kurt. Deep down we know you're irreplaceable

And get this: the director Andre Konchalovsky was fired with only a few weeks left in shooting. The reason? He wanted to make the movie more REALISTIC. This went against the will of producer Jon Peters, who is notoriously responsible for the giant mechanical spider in "Wild Wild West" and telling Kevin Smith to throw polar bears in his aborted "Superman" script. Peters wanted this film to be as cartoony and over the top as possible - and it shows.

"Tango & Cash" feels like one of those rare movies that was shot in sequence because, I swear, as the movie goes on it increasingly detaches itself from reality. What starts as your standard buddy cop flick ends with Kurt Russell and Stallone stopping by the LAPD's "Q branch" for some exploding gun boots and the Punisher's battle van. They then proceed to drive straight into the heart of the villain's impregnable fortress and cause all sorts of pyrotechnic mayhem. It's sort of like the neanderthal-American version of a James Bond movie.

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The Punisher's battle van, as seen in the Spider-Man animated series

I mean, there's a shot of Kurt Russell leaping through a black void in a wet tank top, arms outstretched, gritting a leather belt in his teeth. A few minutes later Stallone is shown in the same kind of shot. If that's not *Expressionism*, I don't know what it is.

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The "body sweat" quiotent in this movie is abnormally high

For the sake of action junkies just looking for a little bit of an 80's guilty pleasure, "Tango & Cash" delivers some impressive stuntwork. This movie is in love with people falling from great heights and, more or less, landing on their feet. The entire ending sequence is devoted to monster truck-style mayhem, with huge trucks blown up by missiles and bulldozers threatening to crush our heroes. Speaking of mayhem, you've also got Teri Hatcher performing some kind of dance routine to the classic synth-pop group Yazoo, wearing the most atrocious silver costume you can imagine.

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Teri Hatcher lays an egg onstage

Later on, she has to smuggle Kurt Russell out of her dance club - while he's dressed in drag.

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Kurt Russell - yeah, that's Kurt - in drag

Yeah, this movie defines the term "guilty pleasure" - and I'm not gonna even TALK about the dual ass shots that Stallone and Russell get…in the same frame…as they walk to a prison shower. Nuh uh. NOT gonna go there, my friends.

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"Hey, you know, when we stand real still like this, we kinda look like a Gap ad."

POSTNOTE: I just gotta get this out in the open. Growing up, my childhood friend's dad looked just like Stallone in "Tango & Cash." He was a lawyer so he always had the suits on, and in my hazy recollection he had the same Tango-style giant glasses. Granted, he was more of a skinny guy so he didn't have the muscles or the thick neck like Sly but other than that - spitting image, I swear. As a kid, I couldn't walk by the VHS cover of "Tango & Cash" at the video store without thinking: hey, that's my friend's dad!

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My friend's dad

POST-POSTNOTE: Don't be surprised or alarmed if, upon viewing "Tango & Cash," you have a dream or two in which you're wearing a shirt that's completely cut off at the shoulders like Cash does early in the film. Trust me: it's totally normal, totally healthy.

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You know you want this shirt now

And now...some of my


TANGO: Rambo? Rambo's a pussy.

CASH: When this is over, remind to rip Jimbo there's tongue out.

TANGO: With a tow truck.

CASH: I don't know about you but I've got an aversion to being F.U.B.A.R.

TANGO: What's F.U.B.A.R.?

CASH: Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition.

CASH: You want my vote for the psycho hall of fame, asshole? You got it!

CASH: You wanna cut my throat, go ahead. You wanna cut my fuckin' head off and use it for a fuckin' basketball? You can *bowl* with the motherfucker for all I care! Just don't let HIM do it! I don't wanna get killed by this limey, immigrant JERKOFF! I wanna get killed by an AMERICAN jerkoff!

CASH: Well, if it isn't Armani with a badge.

TANGO: When this is over, we'll have to pay Jabba the Hutt here a visit.

CASH: I'll bring a chainsaw.

TANGO: I'll bring the beer.

TANGO: Shame, shame. Don't you know that ponytails are out this year?

TANGO: You really look like shit in a ponytail, you know that?

TANGO: It wouldn't be a party without Mr. Potato Head!

TANGO: Yes, yes! I loved you in Conan the Barbarian!

TANGO: Either this clock's counting backwards or somebody just activated a bomb.

CASH: Yeah, I wonder who!

CASH: You are one mistrustful, maladjusted human-fucking-being, you know that?

TANGO: And I love you too.

TANGO: What is THAT?

CASH: That, is an RV from hell. Care to join me?

1 comment:

  1. I totally want that shirt now!

    On a side note, this movie had a nice married-couple-feel to it. Not so much homo-erotic but deep seeded love between Tango & Cash. Well it started kinda gay (shower scenes) but ended kinda sweet (freeze frame high five). By the end of the movie, they cared so deeply for one another I wanted to cry with joy and smack my lips like Jack Palance.