There was a time in the ‘80s and ‘90s where screenwriters alike would foolishly presume that it was ultra-cool to name their characters with unrealistic surnames. As if anybody in their right mind sitting in the audience would believe that someone’s real last name is Tango or Cash. Steven Seagal in Hard to Kill (1990) was equivalently given the farcical name “Mason Storm”, in addition to Arnold Schwarzenegger being named “John Matrix” in Commando (1985). Borderline foolish and laughable – which is exactly how to describe the 1989 Action/Comedy, Tango & Cash, starring Sylvester Stallone as Raymond Tango and Kurt Russell and Gabriel Cash. This film is best remembered if it remains on the shelf collecting dust; it doesn’t deserve a revisit by any means necessary – let alone a sequel.
Stallone and Russell play two rival LA narcotics experts who despite their hate for each other, partner up to take down a common enemy in drug lord Yves Perret (Jack Palance). Right off the bat, we see a big-rig tanker truck being trailed by a helicopter in the skies while Tango is chasing the 18-wheeler down the highway with video game like ‘80s 8-track music on the soundtrack, followed by swiss cheese dialogue when Tango blocks the road for the oncoming truck, causing the drivers to stomp on their brakes and fly through the windshield, landing on the asphalt concrete. “Glad you could drop in.” Tango says. Followed by “Rambo is a pussy”, after a highway patrolman ridicules Tango for thinking he’s a one-man-army like the Vietnam War Veteran character Stallone portrayed in a trilogy of films prior to the release of Tango & Cash in ’89. Tango shoots a bullet into the tanker and cocaine pours out. “Look! It’s snowing.” He says, in a series of one-liners amid gravely serious subject matter mixed with actors reciting comedy – a bizarre mix that can hit or miss depending on your taste in cross-genre filmmaking. When making action comedies, in the ‘80s or in 2020, there should be an emphasis played on one genre over the other and the comedy should appear natural with hints of subtlety – as opposed to a blatant 50/50 balance between the two genres resulting in a film that doesn’t know its own identity. There should be an overlap of 80/20 when crossing genres, not a balance between the two.
Cash refers to Tango as “Armani with a badge” once the lopsided LAPD crime fighting duo take on the character of Jack Palance, who frames both of our heroes in an attempt to stymie their efforts by making it appear as if they killed an FBI agent, which causes them to serve time in a federal prison for the entire second act of the story. There’s impressive stunt work throughout the movie, with people flying out of second story buildings and landing on rooftops of cars. This could have been a hardcore action film considering its involvement with drugs, nudity, court trials and prison sentences, but the comedic undertone and constant banter between the two leads draws away from what could have been a superior film had the action been stand alone. In addition, the musical theme in the background of Tango & Cash is clearly attempting to replicate the theme song from the Beverly Hills Cop trilogy in blatantly obvious and imitative ways.
In an interview with Fandango, Stallone enthusiastically pitched the idea of making a sequel. “I would do Tango & Cash in a second,” Stallone said. “I know, with Kurt [Russell], it’s not about a caper… it’s just us doing our thing.” That’s exactly how Sly says he pitched it to Russell, who’s still on the fence about the sequel. According to Stallone, it would appear the Tango & Cash conversation is very alive and well, with the two in the midst of discussing it – though it seems Russell needs some more convincing. “I don’t know, Sly…” Stallone said with a smirk, recalling what Russell said to him when approached. “… There we were in our prime and now we’re in our unprime, I dunno.” “So I said, Kurt, “I’m telling you, ya gotta go in on this.” So he said, “I’ll talk to you when I get back.” TheHollywoodFix.com caught up with Kurt Russell and asked him about Stallone’s ambitions for a sequel, and it appeared as though Russell brushed it off as a joke.
Tango is a cop from the upmarket of West LA who dresses like a banker and Cash is the street cop from East LA. When the two get framed and arrested for murder, there’s a ridiculous montage sequence of the two in court at a trial, then they get sentenced to serve time in prison. The film doesn’t know what it is, as it juggles between the fine line of comedy and action. It attempts to lean heavily on serious violence, but the puns and gags take away from the unsmiling situations the films plays weightily on. “Who do you think set us up?” Tango asks Cash as they stand naked in the prison showers, capping on each other’s genitalia. “I don’t know, I have a lot of admirers.” Cash responds, referring to the contemporary version of “admirer” known as a “hater”. This is the second movie in 1989 where Stallone played a character in jail – the superior Lock Up (1989) didn’t rely on any comedy, since it understood that the subject matter was nothing to joke about. Two buddies serving a prison sentence is not a laughable matter.
There’s a fine line between combining the genres of action and comedy while attempting to stay true to the techniques of each, without going overboard. Many are particularly bias toward genre mash-ups simply due to the reason of it being difficult to watch a film where serious scenes of violence are intermixed with characters cracking jokes and acting nonchalant during the sequences. Walter Hill’s 48 Hrs (1982), Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon (1987), Walter Hill’s Red Heat (1988) (which starred Schwarzenegger and Jim Belushi, and made one year before Tango & Cash) were far superior films because the creators had a firm grasp on how to manage the balance between seriousness and comicality. Considering the Schwarzenegger/Stallone rivalry of the late ‘80s, it appears as though Schwarzenegger beat Stallone to the punch on being the first of the two to make an Action/Buddy comedy since Red Heat was made one year prior to Tango & Cash. It’s not ironic that both Stallone and Schwarzenegger made two buddy-cop movies around the same time, considering their disdain for each other during the decade. Moreover, Sylvester Stallone has portrayed a wide variety of iconic characters throughout his legendary career as a filmmaker, but if there’s a single character of his that deserves more screen-time in the form of a TV series or a sequel, it’s Marion Cobretti – the Zombie Squad cop from the cult-film Cobra (1986), directed by the Greco-Italian filmmaker George P. Cosmatos. According to the same article from Fandango, writer/director Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, Machete) has already taken the lead to helm a sequel.