REVIEW: Tango and Cash (1989)

After many years, George McGhee delves into the cult action comedy Tango & Cash and uncovers a somewhat chaotic production.


In a nutshell

Rival top LA cops Ray Tango (Sylvester Stallone) and Gabe Cash (Kurt Russell) are set up by drug baron Yves Perret (Jack Palance) for a crime they didn’t commit. They are forced to team up to escape prison, prove their innocence and take down Perret.


In 1989, producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber had a box office hit featuring Jack Palance as a villain and pop soundtrack. But enough about Batman, let’s talk about their other film released that year, Tango and Cash! All the key ingredients were there, A-List stars with Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell, an acclaimed director (Andrei Konchalovsky) and a Harold Faltermeyer soundtrack (Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun) So how could the resulting film end up as such a mess?

These days, the lovely internet continually feeds us news of another troubled Hollywood blockbuster. In the past few years, we’ve had Suicide Squad (2015), Fantastic Four (2015), Rogue One (2016), and Justice League (2017) have all suffered the dreaded term “reshoots”. Additional photography is a standard process for most films, allowing some minor tweaks that weren’t captured during “Principal Photography”.

In the above cases, the reshoots were more drastic, going on for several weeks, with new directors or editors drafted in to dramatically change the plot or tone. Tango and Cash is also a victim of such a situation. Apparently it’s ego-driven star (Stallone) and an erratic producer (Peters) decided more than halfway through filming that the film (then called The Set Up) should be less gritty cop thriller and more comic book camp.

Original Director of Photography, Barry Sonnenfeld (director of the Addams Family and Men in Black films) was fired by Stallone after just one week. Director Konchalovsky was slightly more successful, getting fired after three months of shooting. A new ending was completely rewritten and filmed (feeling like a James Bond knock off) and legendary editor Stuart Baird (Superman, Lethal Weapon) was brought in to whip it into some sense.

Despite the changes, the seams are fairly evident. Nothing as obvious as changing facial hair (Henry Cavill’s CGI mouth in Justice League), but scenes are haphazardly mashed together without much throughline. A lot of dialogue appears to have been re-recorded (known as ADR – additional dialogue replacement) making some scenes feel rushed as characters try to fill in plot.

At first glance, it appears Stallone is playing against type, in a three piece suit and glasses. Ray Tango is sophisticated, a stock market whizz and miles away from the shabby, slurred style of Rocky and Rambo. However that’s just the first act. As soon as he’s wrongfully imprisoned, Stallone back in a vest, muscles bulging, diving from explosions.

Tango & Cash...go to prison

Despite the costumes, he and Gabriel Cash are cut from the same cloth. They’re both arrogant and stubborn. They both work alone. As Cash states; “Bad cop, worse cop” As a rule 80’s buddy movies, usually have the characters at odds. 48 hours (1982) teamed up a grumpy maverick cop with a smooth-talking criminal. Lethal Weapon (1987) paired a family man, days from retirement with a suicidal loner. Tango and Cash just dress differently and one wants to sleep with the others sister. The film would have been far more interesting (not to mention funnier) to have Stallone as a reluctant hero, pushed out his depth – something that was done effectively in the Will Ferrell comedy in The Other Guys (2015).

For the villains, Jack Palance turns in a reliably over the top performance as a drug baron who maps out his evil plans using mice. Bond villains have detailed 3D plans, Yves Perret has an elaborate mouse maze, whilst his minions look on baffled. At least Jack Nicholson’s Joker was on hand to take the piss out of Palance’s ramblings in Batman. On henchman duties is the usually reliable Brion James (Blade Runner, The Fifth Element). James decides the only way to stand out is to have a cockney accent that veers into Dick Van Dyke levels of accuracy.

Despite the film being messier than a plate of two day old spaghetti (to paraphrase a Tango one-liner) the film does succeed on it’s main aim – it is A LOT of fun. Russell brings his usual roguish charm that comes effortless to him. Even the reworked third act with it’s futuristic mini-van, mini-guns, monster trucks and a self destruct sequence offers some large scale thrills.

The 1980’s was a great decade for action blockbusters, yet Tango and Cash feels like a missed opportunity. For an action comedy it delivers on the action but a lot of the intended laughs fall flat. This film has many fans and my inner 12 year self had a lot of fun rewatching it.  I doubt many would argue it’s up there with the best of Stallone’s or Russell’s output. My advice, you’re better off watching Demolition Man (1993) or Big Trouble in Little China (1986) instead.

Alternative Title: Troubled and Confused

Coulda Woulda Shoulda

(Deep breath) Michael Biehn, Pierce Brosnan, Kevin Costner, Richard Gere, Mel Gibson, Don Johnson, Michael Keaton, Ray Liotta, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Bill Paxton, Ron Perlman, Dennis Quaid, Gary Sinise, Bruce Willis and James Woods were all apparently considered to play Gabriel Cash.

REVIEW: Con Air (1997)

Following the recent podcast episode, some thoughts on the lasting appeal of Con Air, now over 20 years old. Just let that sink in!

con air retroramble

1997 was a very strong year for blockbusters The Fifth Element, Titanic and Men in Black, as well as the kind of mid budget productions like Gattaca and Copland that struggle to get made these days.

At the time, Jerry Bruckheimer Productions were a major player amongst the blockbusters, with recent hits like Bad Boys, Crimson Tide (both 1995), and The Rock (1996) . Riding off the success of the latter, with Cage’s action debut, we got Con Air. Nicholas Cage, a brilliant actor with no gauge on quality, makes his journey to the dark side complete. In just over a year after his Best Actor Oscar, he’s running from explosions, in a vest, with a mullet, in slo-mo. His choice of projects progressively got worse, with a few exceptions over the years like Adaptation (2002), Matchstick Men (2003) and Kick Ass (2010).

The film ticks off all the points of a Bruckheimer checklist, music video style visuals (flames in the rain – at night), catchy pop theme, high concept plot. The story, based off a news article, doesn’t offer much background on why Cameron Poe is imprisoned so far from home (maybe it’s a military thing) or why so many master criminals are on board.  Or even why the plane happens to have an arsenal of machine guns in case an action sequence demands it? That’s missing the point, Con Air very much has its in tongue in cheek with some very witty lines. At one point, Cage’s character even questions the ludicrousness of the situation and at another point blankly states “I’m gonna save the fucking day!”.

Cage is clearly relishing the fun of it all. Which actor wouldn’t want to be an action hero if given the chance?! He does dial down his usual eye-popping Cage-iness, instead opting for the brooding quippy type. Who knows, maybe he ran out of crazy after Face/Off? To add some character, Cage decides to go with a shaky Southern drawl, that even Forrest Gump would question.

Cage’s not alone in this camp caper, other credible actors are on hand to craft to play off Poe’s bewilderment. John Malkovich gleefully devours some ridiculous dialogue. John Cusack screams earnestly into a variety of handheld devices and character actors like Colm Meaney and Steve Buscemi all seem to be having a blast. Most other Bruckheimers are one or two man shows. Con Air is more of an ensemble piece.

There’s so many characters, they don’t have much time to make an impact. Thankfully Cusack is on hand to give the audience a top line overview of the key criminal’s records. If anyone is missed off his list, then thankfully they get the chance to be introduced via another character, “Hey aren’t you criminal x? Is it true you committed all those crimes and stuff?”

Despite being a standard Bruckheimer production, it’s a strong start for debut director Simon West. The film has a great sense of pace and visual palate which has a lasting impression. From the washed out, almost alien, desert scenes to the night time neon garishness of the Las Vegas set finale. It’s a shame West hasn’t done anything as memorable since – with Lara Croft:Tomb Raider (2001) and The Expendables 2 (2012) being his most notable efforts since.

Whilst the film has many fans, I’d argue it was the beginning of the end for the adult action blockbuster. Following Con Air, Bruckheimer films would move into more family friendly efforts like Armageddon (1998), Pirates of The Caribbean (2001 onwards) and urgh, National Treasure (2004) whilst trying to compete with the new trend of superhero films.

For me, it’s somewhere in the middle of a good Bruckheimer. Not as smart as Enemy of the State or Crimson Tide, not as fun as The Rock or Top Gun (1986), but not as silly as Armageddon (1998) or Bad Boys 2 (2003). Just remember to put the bunny back in the box.

Alternate title: Prisoners On A Plane

Coulda Woulda Shoulda: Mickey Rourke and Gary Oldman were almost cast as Cryus The Virus.

Fun Facts: Apparently John Cusack is not a fan of the film and refuses to discuss it in any interviews.