Sometimes you know you want to see a movie because of the trailer, or good word of mouth. And sometimes it’s because you keep seeing little bits and pieces of it. I have to have seen small parts of Tango & Cash at least a dozen times while channel surfing, but it was always well into the movie. I’m the kind of person who hates watching a movie if it’s even ten minutes into it, so I never stopped to watch any more than a few seconds. But what I saw was enough to make me want to see the whole film.
Released in 1989, Tango & Cash is part of the “buddy cop” action-comedy subgenre that was so prevalent in the 1980s. Starring Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell, two of the most unabashedly fun action movie stars, it seemed to me like a film that was guaranteed to be a good time.
Only Kurt Russell could make Stallone look straight-laced.
Stallone plays Lt. Ray Tango, narcotics detective for the Los Angeles Police Department. He’s assigned to the west side of L.A., the upper class section, and fits in with that lifestyle. He dresses sharp — “Armani with a badge” as Cash describes him — and engages in day trading. There’s a strong indication that he doesn’t even need the job for the money at this point, he just does it because he enjoys it. Russell plays his east-side opposite number, Lt. Gabriel Cash, always broke, always slovenly — but like Tango, the most successful in his precinct at making drug busts. The two aren’t partners; in fact, they’ve never met, though they recognize each other from headlines of their big busts. But when each of them disrupt the business dealings of drug kingpin Yves Perret (played by the legendary Jack Palance), they find themselves in a situation that they can only get out of by working together.
Like most “buddy cop” movies, the premise isn’t particularly deep, but it gets the job done. It provides an interesting plot and a reason for these odd-couple characters to get together. There’s a lot of action, with both fistfights and firefights as the two make their way through the plot against them. And there’s a fair amount of humor with the two personalities clashing against each other, and Cash starting up a relationship with Tango’s sister (Teri Hatcher). Director Andrey Konchalovskiy was replaced midway through filming by Albert Magnoli; apparently the reason is that Konchalovskiy wanted to make a more serious film, and the producers wanted it to be more comedic, as with most “buddy cop” movies. While it could have resulted in a disjointed film, the result is a fairly cohesive movie that is darker in places than many of its compatriots yet still has a solid sense of humor.
Interrogations usually go better if you let the guy talk.
The two leads both do a fantastic job with their characters. Stallone’s role as Tango is fun to watch, as he’s a bit stuffy and uptight, but contrary to the stereotypical pairings of the genre, is definitely not by the book, and is willing to make smart remarks when the situation calls for it. Cash is more on the lines of Russell’s usual loose-cannons; it’s a familiar role, but still a very good one. The movie plays up their rivalry early on, and the actors do well showing the growing sense of camaraderie between the two of them. And on the villain side of things, Jack Palance makes for a sinister, and somewhat creepy, ringleader while Brion James is a suitably intimidating lead henchman.
The action sequences are fun to watch, with some good hand-to-hand combat and some good gunfights. Also, because this is from the 80s, a good number of explosions. The heavily-armed van they wind up driving near the end is rather over-the-top, but it’s still entertaining. There are also some chase scenes, and these are a lot of fun, as they really show the improvisation that someone would really have to go through in order to make some of these escapes. All too often in action movies, it feels like the hero knows where everything is ahead of time; Tango and Cash are clearly winging it. The action sequences are helped by an energetic musical score. I found myself appreciating it several times, and when the final credits rolled around was unsurprised to find it was written by Harold Faltermeyer, the man behind a couple other great 1980s film themes, Beverly Hills Cop and Fletch.
Tango & Cash may not have much to it beyond the usual “buddy cop” standards, but for fans of that subgenre it’s certainly worth watching. I have to wonder if, had it not been for its troubled production, a sequel might have been forthcoming at some point. The characters certainly could have supported it.