Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell are Ray Tango and Gabe Cash, two cops in L.A. who are kind of a pair of opposites. Sly is a bespectacled, stock-market playing, fancy-suit wearing cop. While Kurt on the other hand, is completely comfortable wearing a dirty t-shirt and grabbing slices of pizza from the hands of others.
The one thing they do have in common is they’re both very good at their job. They’re both accomplishing huge headline-making drug busts and are becoming a real headache to drug lord Jack Palance. Finally he’s had enough from Tango and Cash, and forms a plan to get them off his back.
Tango and Cash are set up for a crime, are hauled off to a rough prison, where Palance has plans to eliminate them. His scheme gets botched when the pair manage an escape. Now working together, they set out to find the ones who set them up, clear their names and attempt to take down Palance once and for all!
From first impression Tango & Cash looks like another standard ‘cop-buddy’ movie that was being churned out during the 1980s. Two big popular stars playing cop opposites, getting into some heavy duty action and getting some laughs working together. Variations of this premise had already become a tired movie trope by the time Tango & Cash came around in 1989.
The thing that ends up making Tango & Cash somewhat strange and a bit of an oddity in the cop buddy genre, is the mix it has with the action and comedy. Oh, it’s got the action bits that fans will want to see, but it’s so overloaded with comedy, one-liners and a light tone that it practically neuters the action or excitement that one might normally associate with a cop action movie. It’s very heavily sided with the comedy. And not for its own good.
It’s very bizarre. If you’re expecting an R-rated actioner you’ll probably be disappointed. This isn’t an ultra serious Cobra here. Tango & Cash plays more like a light PG-13 action romp. The comedy and some of the strange scenes that fill up a lot of the movie ends up more adolescent than amusing. There is a lot of cringy humor in this.
Now, some might get a laugh out of seeing Russell in drag, Palance affectionally playing with his pet rats and Stallone butchering every comedic line he’s given, but the movie probably would’ve worked better had they pared that stuff back, focused more on the action and didn’t try to give it such a healthy dose of humor.
So Tango and Cash are working at different precincts and have a rivalry going at which one is scoring the best headlines. From the start they’re a mismatched pair – and they engage in jokey one-upmanship with each other throughout the entire movie.
This wouldn’t be bad – had the jokes been funny. It ends up being a very cheesy romp. The heavy dose of comedy neuters most of the action and suspense of the pair having to clear their names, facing off against chorus lines of bad guys, even them being attacked by a huge gang in prison. It seemed more important to the filmmakers to make sure that Stallone and Russell were just given plenty of jokes to spout off to one another.
Russell has no problem with this task. He can manage a role like this in his sleep. He brings his macho action swagger that served him perfectly in Big Trouble In Little China and manages to be likable and sells his part fine. He can give life to even the most eye-rolling quips.
Stallone on the other hand is the weak part of this team. We all know he can handle the action, but when it comes to comedy it’s his Achilles heel. He just can’t deliver a comedic line with any satisfying flair or timing. It always comes off as very stiff and embarrassing. Even when he’s given a self mocking line about his own onscreen persona it drops like a rock. Someone says, “He thinks he’s Rambo!”, Stallone replies very flatly, “Rambo is a pussy.” A line like that should warrant a chuckle, but it just lays there.
In a way Stallone’s inability to do comedy starts to become part of the movie’s charm. I start to become more focused on his terrible line deliveries.
One line in particular that I really love is when Stallone confronts one of the cops who set them up. He surprises the guy in his kitchen and he drops a bowl of spaghetti on the floor. Seeing the spaghetti Stallone says, “From the look of your diet, it’s obvious that you’re not too interested in counting calories. Could it be that you’re too busy counting the money THEY PAID YOU TO SET US UP?!?!”
What a hoot!
Perhaps if they had written Russell as being the more jokey of the two and Stallone the strait-laced no nonsense one who gets aggravated by his new loose partner and all he had to do were slow burns things would’ve clicked better. Having both of them do verbal sparring, trying to equally match one another throughout the entire movie gets tiresome and leaves Stallone paddling up river.
I guess Stallone really wanted to lighten up his image with Tango & Cash, much the same way Chuck Norris had tried with Firewalker, which failed miserably. I guess I can’t fault him for trying. And he did try a few more times with some comedy in Oscar and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot after this. But I guess at some point he realized comedy was not his strong suit and he’s best with just an amusing one-liner here and there in his heavily loaded action movies.
Teri Hatcher plays Stallone’s sister who Russell has the hots for. This creates more conflict between the pair as Stallone is cartoonishly protective of her. It’s pretty absurd and it’s hard to take very seriously and doesn’t yield any laughs. Hatcher doesn’t leave much more of an impression other than looking great in this.
The cast is littered with recognizable character actors – Robert Z’Dar, Michael J. Pollard, Michael Jeter, Clint Howard, Geoffrey Lewis, James Hong, Marc Alaimo, Brion James. You might not know their names, but you’ll recognize them instantly. Despite the eclectic cast it doesn’t really gel together or create many special moments.
Brion James as the pony tail-wearing, Cockney-speaking bad guy gets the most mileage out of his scenes and becomes a stand out character. Too bad the movie didn’t have more of them. Even big bad Palance ends up being a nonentity and becomes completely forgettable in this.
When Pollard shows up as a gadget-master and supplies the guys with a hi-tech truck to storm Palance’s hideout you’ll either love it or just accept the absurdity of it since it’s so close to the end.
Apparently, Tango & Cash had major production problems while filming. Original director Andrei Konchalovsky was fired after filming for three months. Original director of photography Barry Sonnenfeld was fired by Stallone. Producer Jon Peters was unhappy with the original ending. Stallone reportedly was unofficially working as producer, director and writer. Director Albert Magnoli came onboard.
There were constant rewrites to the script, indecision with the tone of the film, major recutting. Warner Brothers wanted to avoid problems with the MPAA and the films rating, so they drastically cut any violence shown.
Really, reading about all the production problems that befell on the film is more interesting than talking about what made it to the screen. The chaotic production explains why so many clips in the trailer are nowhere to be found in the final film.
After all its problems, Tango & Cash barely managed to make it’s release date of December 15, 1989 and did disappointing box office considering the stars and budget. A little trivia for you – Tango & Cash was one of the last films to be released in the 1980s. This is according to wikipedia. I’m not sure how important knowing that is, but I’ll add that.
For all the behind the scenes drama, Tango & Cash is certainly not a disaster. It’s passable enough and there’s nothing to hate about it. I know it has it’s share of fans who enjoy it. It’s not the best thing anyone involved in it has done, but there’s not much to crow about it either.
There has been rumors of a long delayed sequel coming together, reteaming Stallone and Russell once again. It’s not exactly a sequel I’ve ever yearned to see though.