NetFlix Review #12: Tango & Cash

So when I mentioned I'd be writing this review I went so far as to say that this movie may be the most 80s action flick ever. Ray Sawhill expressed interest, Kyle and I might be doing a podcast based off of it, so, with a bit of pressure, here we go.


First of all, let's define our terms here. When I say "most" definitive film in regards to a decade/era, I'm not talking about quality, or "best," nor am I talking about most indicative of the zeitgeist. What I'm thinking of is how movies were made and why they were made. I want a movie that WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN MADE in another decade. For instance, if we were talking about just regular old movies and I asked what movie would be "most 80s" a frequent contender is The Breakfast Club. Now, The Breakfast Club is definitely a very 80s movie, however, if it had never been made and someone pitched that movie at a studio (updating a few cultural references, of course), people would make that movie. However, Adventures in Babysitting is another story. There's nothing you could do to update the trends or cultural references that would make that movie any less 80s, it is 80s in its bones, and they wouldn't have made it the 70s or the 90s or any other era. Only in the 80s.

This means that most of these movies aren't "brilliant." A lot of them are, or at least feel like they are, written by committee. And as we all know, when people do something by committee it usually aims to the lowest common denominator, plays it safe, thinks in terms of marketing as opposed to art and they frequently attempt to be "hip" while actually being as edgy as a guidance counselor. However, fortunately for us, and fortunately for Tango & Cash, sometimes committees also go absolutely INSANE.

How did they go insane in this particular instance? Let's break it down, 80s style.

(1) COCAINE. Tons and tons of cocaine. I'm frankly amazed "Cocaine" does not receive a writing credit on this movie. This is a staple of the 80s. Everything feels rushed and excited and AWESOME and extreme, because everyone had cocaine pouring out of their eyeballs. This also causes movies to feel a little erratic. Or, in the case of Tango & Cash, all the hell over the place.

HOW THIS MOVIE IS MORE COCAINE THAN OTHER 80s ACTION MOVIES: Have you watched it? You can practically hear the coked up pitch while you do. "There's a tanker truck, and a sports car and a helicopter! And then Sly... SHOOTS THE TANKER! And there's COCAAAAAAAINE!!!! And then Kurt Russel punches people!! Probably some Asian dude. And then they get sent to prison and they ESCAPE after KICKING ASS. When they escape, there'll be HUGE FANS WITH ROTATING BLADES and WIRES THEY SLIDE DOWN. And then there's a HOT BABE DANCING IN A CLUB, MAN, YEAH!!! AND THEN A HUGE TRUCK AND GUNS AND A WAREHOUSE AND EXPLOSIONS AND OH MY GOD I CAN'T FEEL MY LEGS!!!!"

(2) WEAPONS ANXIETY. The "Second" Cold War. Russia. Iran-Contra. Rising urban violence. Punk and anarchy. Rising class tensions through economic disparity. In the 80s, people were scared, they were anxious and they were thinking about weapons ALL THE TIME. Who had them? Should THEY get some? Action movies reflected this by loading up their heroes to the hilt. Gone were Clint Eastwood and his Magnum. In were Rambo, Schwarzenegger, the big guns. (Trivia note: in Terminator 2 the gun used in the Cyberdyne scene was so heavy only Arnold Schwarzenegger could carry it!) It was also there in movies like the Beverly Hills Cop series, where Judge Reinhold's character has his gun fixation, and in Stripes, with the awesome Urban Assault Vehicle.

HOW THIS MOVIE IS MORE WEAPONS THAN OTHER 80s ACTION MOVIES: Tango & Cash again steps up the game into parodic levels. So. Many. Guns. Guns in cars, guns in boots, exploding fake dog heads. Weapons weapons weapons weapons weapons. They shove a grenade down a man's pants, then push him down the stairs to his crotch-exploding death. You could argue that Rambo 2 and 3 outweapon Tango & Cash, but we have to look at context. Rambo is in 'Nam, man. You've GOT to weapon up in the 'Nam! Tango and Cash are in L.A., and while weaponing up there isn't a BAD idea, they definitely take it to the extreme. I'd say they definitely take it over Judge Reinhold levels, and if you're topping The Judge, you know you're meaning business.

(3) THE MONEY: The 80s were the era of Wall Street. "Greed is good!" Everything was about the money. In action movies the villains started changing from the punks, the violent bullies and harsh killers and became The Money Men. The bad guy was the guy behind the guy behind the guy. The puppetmasters. In this movie the bad guy is the awesome Jack Palance, vamping it up something fierce, playing the awesomely named Yves Perret.

HOW THIS MOVIE IS MORE MONEY THAN OTHER 80s ACTION MOVIES: Palance isn't a businessman, he's a business, man, and you'd better stay out of his business, DAMN! What exaclty is Palance's business? Ummmm... being nefarious? He's a crime lord with a huge office, a giant facility full of employees and illegal dealings, and he's so good at being so money that, by all accounts, he doesn't even really need a front. The man pays his taxes just so he can put "Evildoer" as his occupation and watch no one be able to do a darn thing about it. He's networking with other money men, one of whom is the great James Hong. He's got the super-chic modern art deco office. So. Much Money. But what puts this one over the top? The hero's playing Wall Street as well! Sly's Tango makes a ton of bank playing stocks. Why is he a cop, then? I'm glad you, and the movie, asked that question. Adventure, my friend. Adventure.

(4) CORNY JOKES: A staple of every 80s action movie, the throwing out of one-liners and lame zingers was actually legally required by 1982. Just look at the Schwarzenegger ouevre, which reached it's zinger-flinging apex with 1987's The Running Man.

HOW THIS MOVIE IS MORE CORNEY JOKES THAN OTHER 80s ACTION MOVIES: First of all, it has the added bonus of being a buddy cop movie where the two main characters start out as antagonists then end up working together, so you've got two good characters who throw zingers at each other, then combine their zinging powers at the bad guys. Secondly, the zingers in this movie... they're... they're really something else. Just look at the way Stallone responds to his captain telling him if he wanted to stare death in the eye, he should have gotten married. "Is that a proposal?" Is it? The joke doesn't make any sense, really, but Stallone sells it SO hard. Possibly too hard. Is he being ironic, parodying the stereotypical movie hard cop quip? Did he think the line was stupid and oversold it to underline how ridiculous it was? Or was he earnestly selling it? This is not the only time this happens in the movie, a line so silly, sold so hard that you have to question the intent. And for that, this movie reigns supreme.

(5) OBTUSE ART VERSUS CONSUMERISM: Just watch any random music video from the 80s and you'll see this. Baroque lighting, overly symbolic imagery, a striving to be serious, thoughtful and "arty" without actually having anything to say. Look at Robert Palmer videos. I'm sure that director felt he was saying something about beauty and Hollywood and conformity and whatever, but really he's just got a bunch of ladies in strange make-up and outfits dancing out of synch while poorly pretending to play instruments to a song about a woman being so fine a man forgot where he placed his money and also being addicted to love.

HOW THIS MOVIE IS MORE OBTUSE ART VERSUS CONSUMERISM THAN OTHER 80s ACTION MOVIES: Actually one of the things that first struck me was how good the movie looks. The film was directed (mostly) by Andrei Konchalovsky, a Russian filmmaker who, back in the motherland, had directed a number of critically acclaimed films, including adaptations of Chekhov and Turgenev, as well as a 4 hour epic, Siberiade, about two families in a small Siberian town. Then he came to America and directed the insane and entertaining Runaway Train, starring Jon Voight and Eric Roberts, and then Tango & Cash. So the guy's got cred. And like I say, the movie looks good. The prison torture scene, the escape, Palance's lair, the club Terri Hatcher works at. It's all SUPER 80s designed, and interestingly enough Konchalsky left the movie near the end of filming over "creative differences" with the film's ending and Albert "Purple Rain" Magnoli was brought in to finish it up. No offense to Comrade Konchalsky, but... creative differences? The ending wasn't fitting his "artistic vision" for Tango & Cash? That's WAAAAY 80s.

(6) BIZARRE SUPPORTING CAST: 80s action movies loved filling out their casts with oddball characters, the zanier the better.

HOW THIS MOVIE IS MORE BIZARRE SUPPORTING CAST THAN OTHER 80s ACTION MOVIES: Check the list - James Hong, Clint Howard, Brion James, Michael J. Pollard, Robert Z'Dar, Jack Palance, Terri Hatcher, Michael Jeter, Geoffrey Lewis, Lewis Arquette and even a brief appearance by Billy Blanks.

(7) THE PEACEFUL WARRIOR, EXCEPT...: What would now be called "The Seagal Effect," as The Ponytailed One has built his entire career on it, The Peaceful Warrior, Except... effect is when you have the man who is peaceful and never kills anyone, except, you know, when it's awesome. Then he kills EVERYONE.

HOW THIS MOVIE IS MORE THE PEACEFUL WARRIOR, EXCEPT... THAN OTHER 80s ACTION MOVIES: This is hard because, honestly, I don't think anyone will ever do The Peaceful Warrior, Except... better or more extreme than Rambo does in First Blood: Part 2. However, as I said earlier with Rambo, he's a bit of an exception. He's a former P.O.W. with PTSD. These dudes are just cops who are doing their job, they even make a point of it once about how they haven't ever killed anybody, but then, at the end of the movie, everybody's dying. EVERYBODY. They're shooting anything that moves, they're shoving grenades down pants, and they're making wacky quips while they're doing it. This kind of goes along with Obtuse Art Versus Consumerism, as this is a case of people wanting to have their cake and eat it, too. They want to show how much they appreciate the peaceful, thoughtful officer of the law who may have to rough some dudes up on occasion, but then also they want these guys to be the biggest, baddest mothereffers who will kill anyone who looks at them funny.

So there you have it. Those are my arguments. By all means refute them, take issue, naysay. You know me, I love the feedback. In final summation, outside of 80s representational arguments, it's a ridiculously silly and enjoyable movie. It's main strength is Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell, two guys I have a HUGE soft spot for. They are oddly charming dudes, especially Russell. If you're looking for goofy, mindless fun, you certainly won't go wrong.

Jake Thomas

Story Writer. Marvel Comics Editor. Wrangler of Squids.