Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, August 8, 2015

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER: Tango & Cash (1989)


The excesses of the eighties action flick continued to mount as the decade went on. Heroes with ever-beefier biceps continued to pile up increasingly bigger body counts while walking silently away from constantly growing explosions. Even the introduction of the buddy cop concept did little to steam the tide of ridiculousness. By the time “Tango & Cash” came out in 1989, an action flick had to be insanely big to register with audiences. The movie achieved this by pairing Sylvester Stallone, one of the biggest stars of the decade, with Kurt Russell, no slouch in the action star department either. The resulting film had action that was so excessive, it bordered on self-parody. Despite this, and a production plagued by Stallone’s egomaniacal behavior and a revolving door of directors, “Tango & Cash” made money in the day. It continues to endure as an especially ridiculous artifact from a by-gone era.

Ray Tango is the number one cop in L.A. His suit, tie, glasses, and sensible stock investments betray his attitude. Tango is a cock-swinging tough guy who brings in the bad guys via ridiculous ploys. Gabe Cash is the number two cop in L.A. A cowboy cop that flies by the seat of his pants and never seems to have a plan, Cash nevertheless puts the crooks behind bars. Neither of these factoids sit well with Perret, the city’s biggest drug lord. He cooks up a scheme that frames both men for murder, locking them up in jail. Forced to work together, Tango and Cash have to clear their names and kill the bad guy… If they don’t kill each other first.

“Tango & Cash” came out on December 22 of 1989. This made it not only the last American film of the decade but the very last eighties action movie ever. Appropriately, “Tango & Cash” may very well be the apotheosis of the entire genre. The characters talk almost exclusively in catch-phrases. Stallone’s Tango quibs early on that “Rambo is a pussy.” The movie takes the buddy cop story outline, smashes it together with the prison movie, and ramps the action up way pass the point of no return. The villain is played by an unhinged Jack Palance, who oozes, hisses, and plays with his pet rats. Presumably because Giorgio Moroder was busy that day, the other great master of eighties action synth Harold Faltermeyer contributes the score. All “Tango & Cash” would need to be the most cliched eighties action flick is some pot-shots at the Soviet Union and a cameo from Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Usually, buddy cop stories feature heavy contrasts between the two heroes. Murtaugh is a by-the-book family man. Riggs is a suicidal wild card. “Tango & Cash,” alternatively, has the titular character being different sides of the same card. Both men are renegade cops who play by their own rules, getting the criminals at the risk of massive collateral damage. Both bristle under their commanding officers but aren’t fired because they get the job done. Since they are so similar, the script has to gift Tango with some eccentricities. He’s an accountant inside Dirty Harry’s body. Cash, meanwhile, is more rough-and-tumble. The film also embraces the homoerotic subtext any good buddy cop flicks has. Tango and Cash shower together in prison, commenting on each others' physiques. Cash winds up in drag at one point. Tango gets pissed because Cash expresses interest in a woman… Ostensibly because she is his sister but we all know the real reason. The two hate each other at first but, by the end, are high-fiving and calling each other partner.

Not merely satisfied with the clich├ęs of the buddy cop and action genres, “Tango & Cash” also tosses the prison movie into the metaphorical blender. After being rail-roaded during their trial, Tango and Cash end up in prison. And not country-club prison, like was promised, but a sleazy prison full of crooks they put away. Thus, the film devotes a lengthy portion of its middle section to our heroes surviving in jail. There’s wacky cellmates, such as a giant black man and Clint Howard with a slinky obsession. There are thugs out for revenge, such as the recently passed and dearly missed Robert Z’Dar. (Z’Dar, always known as the Man with the Massive Face, plays a heavy named Jaws.) This climaxes in an overheated sequence where the heroes are crucified and slowly lowered into something perilous. The rooftop escape is equally absurd, the duo diving for electrified wire while pursued by guards and bad guys.

In its second half, “Tango & Cash” reaches previously unseen levels of preposterous action. Stallone dives through a door while swinging a wooden duck. Russell shakes down the audio expert that framed him. Most ludicrously, the two seek the assistance of Owen, a weapons technician played by Michael J. Pollard. Like some American variation of MI6’s Q, Owen toils underground, cooking up far out weapons for the L.A.P.D.. Aside from the stuffed dog with a cannon hidden in its mouth, Owen gifts an outlandish battle van to Tango and Cash. The two ride the armored truck into the bad guy’s base, exploding enemy vehicles. Which include a friggin’ monster truck, by the way. All the while, the heroes congratulate themselves on their actions, emphasizing the over-the-top quality of the sequence. To hammer the outrageous aspect home, Palance’s villain even kidnaps Tango’s sister, seemingly out of nowhere. It’s all fairly amazing to watch, even if it’s utterly absurd. The absurdity may be the entire point.

Stallone’s swaggering, self-assured performance is so broad, it barely registers. Marion Cobretti seems like a fully formed character compared to Ray Tango. Kurt Russell does better as Cash, bringing some free-form attitude to the part. Teri Hatcher, playing a stripper who doesn’t stripe, also has some okay chemistry with Kurt. It’s impossible to hate a movie that features Jack Palance molesting rats, Brion James getting a grenade shoved down his pants, and Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell riding a battle wagon into an insanely over-ramped war zone. “Tango & Cash” is absolutely campy claptrap and that’s why people love it. [7/10]

[THE STALLOWNAGE OF SLY: 5 outta 5]
[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Disgraced Cop]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling



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