Retrospective Review #14: Tango & Cash a.k.a Cocaine and Hubris

This series doesn’t usually focus on one film at a time, but I often make exceptions for ones I can extensively write about. Tango and Cash is one I could write about for ages. This 1989 action buddy comedy feels so indicative of its time, like a cocaine and hubris fueled destruction of a movie, one where the producers had a multitude of ideas for action or comedy sequences and figured “fuck it, we can do that. We’re GODS!” That’s only appropriate, given the fact that this was one of the final films released in the 1980s (along with Steven Spielberg’s Always on December 22nd 1989), as it has all the big signifiers of egotistical jackassery that made the decade so uniquely brazen: vanity shots for its stars, an over the top villain, set pieces that often make little to no sense, several familiar character actors randomly shoved in and perhaps one of the most insane uses of a car explosion ever put to film. But… does that make Tango and Cash a bad movie or the best movie?


Warner Bros

Well, one thing that’s for certain is that it’s a badly made movie, but I’m not surprised given some of the insane production problems. Credited director Andrey Konchalovskeiy was fired for trying to give the film a more serious tone, original director of photography/future director Barry Sonnenfeld was fired by Stallone for not lighting things right and famous edit doctor Stuart Baird came in to completely reedit the film after a disastrous first cut. This messy production shows off in this monster of a final version, as the scenes feel less like a cohesive whole and more like a serial style multi-part adventure where each set piece is made up on the fly. Most of the dialogue between the titular partners is made of one liners, feeling like a horrible mutation of the Shane Black style that had just become popular at the time. One liners about everything from getting raped in prison to having sex with the other’s sister to implications of assault towards witnesses at their own murder trial! Tango and Cash takes the concept of “cops who don’t play by the rules” to new levels, yet they’re still the most celebrated cops in LA. The dynamic doesn’t really work as well when both are pretty unorthodox despite Tango being painted as more of a by the book type at times. You know there’s a lack of consistency there when at one point a Tango puts a grenade in a person’s mouth as part of a “good cop, worse cop” routine… and it didn’t seem out of character at all.


Warner Bros.

The chemistry between Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell in Tango and Cash feels like the typical buddy-cop narrative, but the heights it goes to morph it into something stranger than that. As the exploits of the titular characters are revealed further, they almost seem like superheroes more than they do actual cops. Their superhero physiques aside – which Russell makes fun of not too long before the two share a shower scene that extensively shows off their rears and chests – the two have enough familiar resources to feel like costumed crusaders. They survive massive explosions in small places, have protection from the local chief of police despite being vigilantes after they escape from prison, get gadgets from their own personal Lucious Fox (one of which is an armored vehicle) and even change into elaborate costumes prepared at the last minute. Well, Russell does at least in the form of a scene where he’s in drag, which somehow manages to crossover into Bugs Bunny territory of silliness. The fact that producer Jon Peters’ other film Batman came out this same year doesn’t feel like a coincidence. Several of these set pieces feel like something Warner Bros rejected from his initial pitches for Batman.


Warner Bros

Batman co-star Jack Palance even appears here as our lead villain, who plays a Joker and/or Riddler style game of deception to frame Stallone and Russell after all the times they’ve foiled his plans to run a major drug ring through LA. He even disappears into the shadows at one point and has an elaborate maze set up built into his bar to show off the simple metaphor of “being trapped like rats in a maze.” Hell, the scenes of Tango and Cash in prison feel like a precursor to the Arkham Asylum games as the two leads fight over the top prisoners that literally lower them into a vat by a rope. None of this is helped by one of them being B-movie legend Robert Z’Dar, who might as well be a Batman villain given his iconic chin. Yet, the whole time, Tango and Cash feel no sort of real fear or turmoil about the situation at hand.


Warner Bros

There’s so much to say about the Tango and Cash, but the central thing is what manages to keep this insane concept together: Stallone and Russell. Despite both being nominated for Razzie Awards (which have more sins to make up for than either of those leads) for their performances, their actions manage to keep this struggling lopsided mess from tumbling into total chaos based on sheer charisma alone. Despite the insanity of their back and forth or the mind numbing weirdness of the plot they’re going on about, the two of them give some sort of grounding to these characters. It’s not too much mind you, in a film where they drive a monster truck through bellowing flames. Yet, there are a few moments where actual humanity, like when they have an actual conversation about Cash’s relationship with Tango’s sister or Cash showing remorse for his dead assistant warden buddy. It’s nothing too concrete, but it’s just enough to keep this from going off the rails… but that implies that the film had rails to begin with.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Random Shower Scenes


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