Monday, August 13, 2007

Tango & Cash

Price: $1 (or 75 cents if you average out the 4 for 3 bargain discount at amoeba berkeley)
Year: 1989
Director: Andrei Konchalovsky (billed), Albert Magnoli (actual)
Producers: Peter Guber & Jon Peters
Cast: Sly Stallone, Kurt Russell, Jack Palance, Brion James, Teri Hatcher, James Hong, Michael J. Pollard, Michael Jeter, Clint Howard, and Robert Z'Dar's Jaw

"RAMBO?? Rambo's a pussy!"

Before getting too deep and sweaty inside Tango and/or Cash's nether regions, it bears noting that "Tango & Cash" features one of the great opening sequences in all of 1980's action cinema (see above, although this version appears to have been a re-dubbing project for a film class so all the sound is weird and it cuts out early). If you choose to watch it skip the rest of this paragraph, if you are not in the position to fuck with u toob at the present allow me to regurgitate as follows: On a desert road, an oil tanker is being pursued by a helicopter and a police convertible driven by our main dude, Sylvester Stallone, who is trying his hardest to come off sophisticated (Armani suit, Glasses, Proper Diction) in a time of action. The helicopter foolishly implores him to back off because this is their bust and he's about to be way out of his jurisdiction. Sly politely zooms ahead of the careening tanker while maintaining the composure of a cucumber at absolute zero. After gaining a half mile or so on the lumbering silver wildebeest of crime, he skids to a stop with his car vertically across both lanes of the desert highway, steps out of his car, carefully and patiently removes his six shooter (not his penis you "Party at Kitty and Stud's" fans), removes the empty shells, reloads a new clip, and as the tanker reveals itself over the horizon, he aims and unloads on the driver who it should be noted has a cartoonishly oversized jaw. As the tanker approaches, he stops unloading on the windshield and knocks out the front tires causing the gasser to screech to a stop 3 fucking feet in front of him while maintaining enough inertia to propel the two bad dudes driving it clear through the windshield where they land at his feet where he calmly tosses the handcuffs at them to "do the honors" themselves. After a typically delayed arrival (accompanied by Sly watch check and eyeroll) by the other lesser cops who ream him for being out of his jurisdiction and for stopping a tanker on which they can find no contraband, Sly takes aim with the last shot of his pistol at the oil tank itself. Rather than the customary explosion that accompanies such action, a steady stream of cocaine spills out, which Sly tastes and nods.

Hello, Ray Tango.

In the next scene, some asian dude tries to kill Kurt Russell and fails spectacularly, thus introducing us the our other protagonist, Gabe Cash.

"Tango & Cash" is the Judy Winslow of both Sly and Kurt's action resumes. Underutilized, under-appreciated, and unloved. If it were to walk up to the attic and never came back down again, you probably wouldn't even notice and if it were to star in "More Black Dirty Debutantes 30," you wouldn't even bother masturbating to it. It barely turned a profit on its large (for 1989, 55 mill) budget, was greeted with hostility by critics, and is now perpetually relegated to wal-mart bargain bins and USA late night action movie spots.

Yet . . . "Tango & Cash" is a fucking action masterpiece. Maybe 1989 audiences were just too spoiled by the awe-inspiring glut of the golden age of the action movie (roughly "First Blood" to "True Lies") to appreciate T & C's humble zingers, scenery chewing, explosions, electrocutions, slinky stranglings, and ground breaking sodomy humor. Maybe they were unsettled by Sly's awkward attempt to class himself up while still wallowing in the excess of the genre he helped redefine. Maybe it was the total lack of chemistry between the two leads who seem to be acting in their own individual movies the whole time, rarely making eye contact with one another even while on-screen at the same time, and delivering their back and forth lines with the choppy lifeless rat-a-tat of two stars who memorized them in their respective trailers while blowing rails five minutes before ACTION! Maybe they just expected something they hadn't seen before, which this movie unapologetically does not offer because above all, Tango & Cash is a masterpiece of formula. Every single aspect of this film has been done ad nauseum before and after it's release. So while Tango & Cash may not have the cultural cachet of Riggs & Murtaugh, Axel Foley & Judge Reinhold, or even Hallenback & Dix, it's not like they don't deserve a seat at the counter. Their unfailing whiteness could have been a problem. 1989 was right plum in the heart of the halcyon days of the interracial action duo (as all the duos above exemplify). Watching it for the first time in 2007, this point is impossible to avoid noticing, yet entirely perfunctory.

Tango and Cash is not without it's flaws. One wonders why such a big film wasn't entrusted in the hands of a Tony Scott, Walter Hill, John McTiernan, Mark L. Lester or any of the other 80's action impresarios. The look is often soft and muddy, with scenes stumbling into each other with the finesse of a drunken toddler. The writing is snappy, post-Shane Black zingers delivered with the timing of actor's who can barely locate where the punchline is, but this actually lends the movie a cumbersome charm. And above all else this movie deserves a re-examination for one fucking reason in particular


Jack Palance owns this movie. He chews scenery like Animal in the Great Muppet Caper. When he delivers a speech comparing Tango and Cash to rats in a maze while cradling two mice in his hands, you half expect him to bite their heads off and cover himself in their blood while masturbating furiously, he's that fucking intense. Granted this is a man who built his whole career on such OTT-ness, and frightened the academy into voting him best supporting actor for a fucking billy crystal movie (although maybe that was just a consolation prize for their ignorance of this movie). But either way, Palance was rarely given roles this meaty and (chronicles of) riddickulous at this stage in his career and every moment on screen is a treat (williams).

Some more observations:

Brion James is one of my favorite actors of the 80's but his performance here is truly baffling. He's supposedly be British, but his accent is as viable as Keanu's Shakespeare. He waffles between clueless cockney posturing and weirdly
aussie inflections while throwing "bloody"'s around like it's nobody's business. Truly distracting, but fittingly bizarre for this Frankenstein monster of genre cliche.

Robert Z'Dar's JAW

As much as I love Kurt Russell, he is on total auto-pilot here. His Cash is a loose mash-up of Snake Plissken, Jack Burton, and Kurt Russell, but without an interior life or logic to speak of. His main purpose seems to be to act as the Coors Light swilling counterpoint to Sly's brandy and cigar imbibing social climber. Hell, even their last names tell you all you need to know CASH is a no bullshit dude, he just wants the fame and the money that breaking open drug busts can bring, whereas TANGO is intellectual and removed when discussing his craft and uh he wears suits like uh people who tango cause only rich people bother learning how to dance unless Antonio Banderas (or Robert Duvall?) helps them.

Which bring us to the most fascinating aspect of Tango & Cash. Namely the delusional and transparent ambition of Sly Stallone's "Cake and Eat it, too" personification of Ray Tango. "Tango & Cash" marks the first post-Rocky inklings of Stallone's tragic and misguided attempt to distance himself from the gleeful brutality upon which he built his empire of mumble and become reborn as some kind of intellectual brutewad who can pummel your ass while quoting you Sartre. Granted, the dialogue never approaches such lofty heights, but Stallone's terse delivery of the line bolded at the top of this review lets his intentions be known. This is Nu-Stallone, you know, the one who can read and shit (at the same time!). Within two years, he would be starring in his disastrous attempt at screwball OSCAR, where he sports a suit and an education, but a staggering lack of comic timing, which is contrasted charmingly here with K Russ's offhanded brilliance. While Russell succeeds at his role while making no attempt to be anything other than himself, Stallone succeeds with his characterization because it is awkwardly and painstakingly opposed to his comfort zone. It's kind of exhilarating and undeniably quaint to see an actor as iconic and unflaggingly same-y as Stallone stretch outside of his comfort zone, however timidly the stretch may be by any almost any other actor's standards. It's more of a testament to how uniformly Stallone-y most Stallone performances are that one can derive such pleasure from seeing him flail his arms around in the deep end of the pool without his water wings like he does in this movie, but it sure as hell beats trying to wade through COPLAND again, that's for sure because that movie does not feature Clint Howard, the handsomest man in the world.

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