Kevin: It’s extremely fitting that “Tango & Cash” was the very last big studio action film of the 1980’s, being released into theaters Dec. 22, 1989, as it pretty much encapsulates every ridiculous and awesome trend from that decade of excess. Mismatched cops, over-the-top villain, gratuitous violence and nudity, bad one-liners, complete disregard for proper police conduct, nonsensical plotting, and a closing high five, this one has it all, amped up to 11. So with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” finally reuniting them for the first time in nearly 30 years, TGD is closing out Kurt & Sly Week with a Round Table on the last great action film of the ‘80s, “Tango & Cash”:
(Note that the trailer contains a lot of footage that we never see in the final movie, including two major action beats. If there is a three-hour-long Director’s Cut of “Tango & Cash” that exists out there please get us a copy)
Kevin: The first thing we hear in this movie is Stallone’s voice over a black screen: “Okay, let’s do it!” I think I know what it’s like being every woman on the receiving end of that line from Stallone, both excited and a little frightened.
Mike: As in “The Last Stand,” once again we have another case of an extremely low-flying helicopter. The squad cars should be screaming at that pilot over the radio for putting everyone’s lives in danger for nothing. The very same air unit instructs Tango to back off so they can handle the arrest. How exactly are they going to do that from a helicopter? Your guess is as good as mine, and for the record my guess is that that they can’t.
Tango empties his S&W .38 in order to load some high-powered rounds into the gun. A round so powerful that it can stop a big rig with one shot. Oh and by the way, the lawyers are going to have a field day with Tango because he opted to use deadly force by firing on these guys when all they were doing was failing to stop; it’s not like they posed an imminent threat to any innocent bystanders. Tango sweetens the pot when he discharges his handgun in the middle of a crowd just to prove his point that the tanker was full of cocaine (and of course if he was wrong and it was filled with gas, potentially killing everyone on scene).
Kevin: Stallone after the two guys fly through the windshield onto the ground below: “Glad you could drop in.” I had to immediately see what genius screenwriter was responsible for that amazingly original line of dialogue. Turns out it’s Randy Feldman, who also wrote “Nowhere to Run” with Van Damme, “Metro” with Eddie Murphy, and an episode of the CBS show “Martial Law” with Sammo Hung and Arsenio Hall. So obviously we are in good hands.
CJ: I’m also curious how the hierarchy works among cops in California, as a CHP officer immediately demands Tango’s badge after all his “potential murder” tomfoolery. Doesn’t Tango outrank him? After the CHP officer demands his badge I’m pretty sure Tango should have responded by giving him the finger, or given what we have so far learned about him, pulling out his gun and attempting to kill him.
Kevin: Then Jack Palance, as main villain Perret, and his other two “associates” I guess (seriously who are these guys, they seem to be around him 24/7 but they apparently think he’s just as big a weirdo as we do) drive by in the most conspicuous white stretch limo you could imagine. Why? Did they hear Tango had stopped another shipment and wanted to see for themselves, or were they on their way to like Coachella and just coincidentally came across this?
Then we are introduced to Cash arriving at his apartment and picking up today’s edition of the Los Angeles Chronicle, and let’s see what’s in the fictional news today. Here are some of the headlines we see on the Metro page:
“Tango Breaks Drug Pipeline One Billion in Cocaine Seized.” First of all I think there should be a comma after “Pipeline,” but more importantly, ONE BILLION DOLLARS IN COCAINE! Jesus maybe cocaine was a lot more expensive in the ‘80s than I thought, or maybe the coke was mixed with truffles, gold flakes, and the original Mona Lisa, but that didn’t look a billion dollars worth of anything coming out of that small tanker compartment.
Also, here is the opening paragraph for that story: “Many persons felt at this stage that some legal action is forthcoming but it now becomes common knowledge that there is pressure from the inside which will materially change the aspect of the case.” Not sure what any of that has to do with Tango finding some coke, but as a reader I’m at least intrigued.
“Diplomats Feted As Important Issues Go By The Board”: Fucking diplomats, I hate when they do that!
“San Andreas Fault Activity Renewed: Scientists Warn of Increased Earthquake Danger”: Holy shit, was “Tango & Cash” originally intended as a stealth prequel to “San Andreas”? If the planned “San Andreas 2” doesn’t involve Tango and Cash tracking down and arresting The Rock for abandoning his post and stealing vital rescue equipment in order to only help his family, I’m out.
“Cash Makes Another Bust, 200 Kilos Seized”: So if these two cops are so famous that their pictures are included on every story and their last names are used in headlines with the assumption that everyone already knows who they are, why don’t they have agents and endorsement deals and shit? Also does anyone in real life even know what their city’s chief of police looks like, much less two mid-level cops?
Also once again, here is the lead paragraph for Cash’s article: “It would appear that the preliminary inquiry into the matter has in fact not settled any of the minor differences arising from the situation but rather has aggravated the mood for more local investment by the council.” Man this is one esoteric newspaper.
Mike: The L.A. newspapers love to write about Tango and Cash, it’s amazing that either of these two can get any real police work done with their faces splashed over the front page of every paper in the city.
But before he gets a chance to read about what he did yesterday, the worst hitman in the world tries to kill Cash and of course fails in spectacular fashion. Cash is chilling in his apartment completely unaware that there is an assassin inside, and that same assassin decides he’d rather smash through a door instead of just opening it quietly and shooting Cash in the face.
CJ: Let’s also note how Cash chooses to live. During our “Action Jackson” Round Table, I pointed out how I wasn’t sure how ol’ AJ had the sweet apartment he has after Bill Duke reminded him of how little money he makes. Well good news! Someone thinks the same way I do, as Cash’s apartment is a giant shithole!
Kevin: After getting shot by the hitman, Cash touches the heel of his boot, which fires some sort of built-in round like something you’d see James Bond sporting. I admire that the movie feels no need to explain what the hell that was until more than halfway through. Then while chasing after the hitman in an underground parking garage, Cash hits another car, and up pops a couple apparently in mid-coitus, a shot that has no reason to be there other than to show some gratuitous boobs. God I miss the ‘80s!
Mike: Table and chairs in the men’s room, that’s odd. Do cops generally sit around playing cards and eating sandwiches three feet from where people are taking a shit?
Kevin: Before we go on, I have to ask, what is Perret’s deal? Does he own a monopoly on the drug business in California, because how hard would it be for one of his rivals to take him out considering he’s a batshit-crazy senile 90-year-old man? Also, how has he not gotten on the radar of the authorities – including supposed supercops Tango and Cash – by now? He controls the entire gun and cocaine business in the West Coast, and he runs everything out of a factory bigger than three Wal-Marts put together, surrounded by barb wire fences and a dirt track big enough to host the X-Games. Walter White had to buy a shitty car wash just to keep the IRS off his back.
While he’s watching the exploits of Tango and Cash on his TV screens, I forgot that back in the ‘80s it was considered much cooler to have a wall of 16 individual 8-inch TVs all showing the same thing together, rather than, you know, one large 64-inch screen like we have now.
Perret: “Quick and easy is how you make a cake, or clean a toilet bowl, or shop by mail. But quick and easy is not how you run a multi-million-dollar business such as ours.” Once again, great job Feldman!
Probably my absolute favorite part of the movie: Perret pulls out two mice to represent, yes, Tango and Cash. Apparently Cash has cost Perret upwards of $60 million. Tango has cost him even more (according to the papers ONE BILLION MORE!). After Jack Palance weirdly sniffs both the mice, he then sticks them into this incredibly elaborate maze built into his bar top. How much did that cost and how long did it take to build just to make a throwaway point about Tango and Cash being like mice in a maze?
Mike: It’s refreshing to finally see a kingpin using his money for something as awesome as that. Obviously this is a metaphor for Perret’s psychotic need to orchestrate intricate plans instead of just crushing the mice, which represent Tango and Cash, with the iron grip of his own corrupt hand.
CJ: After Perret takes his mice out to put them in his maze table, I had two thoughts. The first was, I didn’t see any air holes in the box the mice were in, so are the henchman constantly pulling out dead mice when Perret isn’t looking and scrambling to put fresh mice in?
Mike: God how I miss movies like this, I really really do! Stuff just happens with virtually no explanation at all. Tango and Cash, each on their own and with no backup, arrive at some kind of abandoned facility at the same time (Phase 1 of Perret’s evil plan). If this came out today the entire movie would be about how they found themselves there, like at the end of “The Departed.” It took Martin Scorsese two full hours to do what “Tango & Cash” did in the first 17 minutes. Fuck you Scorsese, stop wasting our time! (Kevin: Also I think Perret’s mice-in-a-maze metaphor was only just slightly more on-the-nose than Scorsese’s shot of the rat at the end of “The Departed.”)
The frame job against Tango and Cash (Phase 2 of Perret’s evil plan) … well what can you say about it other than there are a lot of moving parts that all seemed to have worked out really well. The man whose murder they were framed for was killed just in time, the FBI was able to stay hidden, the bad guys were able to record their voices and splice together a confession tape, and they even stole Cash’s gun to do the job. That’s a lot of planning and execution to accomplish in one day, not to mention an insane number of loose ends.
The headline of the newspaper that reads “Tango And Cash Arrested For Murder!” has a photograph of them getting arrested right there in the middle of the bust. That’s some fantastic newspaper photographer right there!
Kevin: “Tango And Cash Arrested For Murder!” Oh my god, why? Well according to the first paragraph of the accompanying story, “In a press conference Saturday, however, Ortega appeared to back off his threat slightly, saying that he would reconsider the decision to resume offensive operations this week if the United States moves to cut off its remaining assistance to the guerrillas.” Why does anyone still read the Los Angeles Chronicle, nothing they write has anything to do with the headlines!
Hold on, another update: “Cops Tango and Cash to Stand Trial for Drug Dealer Murder.” Weird that all of a sudden the paper is identifying Tango and Cash as cops in the headline now, since up to now they were L.A. celebrities on the level of Magic and Arsenio who needed no explanation. Either way, let’s just finally see if the accompanying text of this article has anything remotely to do with Tango and Cash or just police work in general: “The Lord, it is often said from the pulpit, works in mysterious ways – to which the Dolores Mission Catholic Church in East Lost Angeles can add a heavy amen.” I give up!
During their trial, the guy who Arnold shot in “Total Recall” after he tried to trick him into swallowing the pill is testifying against Tango and Cash.
Tango: “When this is over, we have to pay Jabba the Hut here a visit.”
Cash: “I’ll bring the chainsaw.”
Me: I’m still waiting, because – perhaps because of reshoots and conflicts in the editing room – we never see that character again.
CJ: Also the audio expert Skinner’s whole testimony about the Tango and Cash tape is that “it sounded like them.” No talk about frequencies or voice matching, just “Yeah, that sounds like them, no need for further silly evidence. Let’s move this along.”
Apparently they are advised to take a plea to go to Lompoc, which Cash describes as a “federal country club.” Weird that, as Mike pointed out in our “The Fast and the Furious” write-up, badass Dom Toretto also went to minimum-security Lompoc and acted like it was the Hanoi Hilton.
Mike: This newspaper really likes to go with exclamation points in their headline. “Tango and Cash Claim Setup!” “GUILTY!” (Phase 3 of Perret’s evil plan)
Speaking of, Perret’s plan is working out great: a case so high profile that the two defendants were on the front page of every newspaper ends with the Dept. of Corrections transferring them to the wrong prison (Phase 4 of Perret’s evil plan), where I assume they have no paperwork, but are still injected into the prison system regardless. Nice to see they will lock up anyone who walks through the front door.
CJ: Tango somehow was able to sneak his giant gold cross chain into prison and into the shower, even though I’m pretty sure you can’t bring personal items into prison. This is both an oversight by the writers as well as more evidence that Italians are the worst.
Also, as Tango and Cash walk to their cells, how is it that no one is concerned about the fires that have been set ablaze? Seriously, they are walking through the prison around open flames as paper and other highly flammable objects are floating around and the guards are just like “That’s Tuesday for you!”
Meanwhile unlike with Brian supposedly in “Furious 6”, I fully believe that the prison is full of guys Tango and Cash put away. Mainly because it is established they have been cops for a while and their numerous front page headlines indicate they seemingly do a good job, unlike Brian, whose man-crush on Dom is strong enough to make him throw away a career with the FBI twice.
Mike: I love the scene of Tango and Cash each meeting their cellmates for the first time. Cash can’t use the toilet, and Tango is stuck with Clint Howard, who actually plays himself in the movie!
Tango and Cash are then bushwhacked in their cells and taken to the prison laundry room, which also contains prison cells with chanting inmates (the final phase of Perret’s evil plan). They make it through a gauntlet of men before being strung up and electrocuted by Perret’s main bodyguard, played by Brion James. Ultimately they are saved when the worst warden in the history of prisons shows up and fails to secure anyone. “Go back to your cells boys, we’ll figure out how 90 of you escaped after lights out, LATER!”
CJ: How come none of the prisoners demand Perret break them out when he leaves? Or just walk out? Or anything?
Tango to Cash at one point: “If he wants us dead so bad, why doesn’t he just put a bullet in our head?
Everyone watching the movie: Yeah no shit.
Kevin: I did enjoy Kurt Russell doing his part to Make America Great Again: “I don’t want to get killed by this limey immigrant jerk-off, I want to get killed by an American jerk-off!”
Mike: Eventually Tango and Cash escape prison. They do this old school movie style by navigating a maze full of impossible peril and emerging virtually unscathed on the other side. Propellers, gunfire, electricity, physical fights, and eventually a zip line lead them to freedom (NOT PART OF PERRET’S EVIL PLAN).
Kevin: I have a few questions:
1) When Tango finally drops and Cash asks, “What did you do, stop for coffee and a Danish?,” why didn’t Tango at least mention that he just killed the guy who had been trying to kill the both of them earlier?
2) Why do Tango and Cash immediately split up? They both have the same goal, they’re both going back to Los Angeles, and they’re both seeking out the same people. And apparently it was incredibly easy for both of them to get back to L.A. from there. (I’ll just note that when they are dropped off the prison looks like it’s in the middle of a desert, yet when Tango and Cash escape they look like they’re in a fucking tropical rain forest.)
3) Tango tells Cash to seek out a girl named Katherine at a club called Cleopatra’s. Why didn’t he also bother to mention that Katherine was his sister?
4) Did clubs like Cleopatra’s actually exist, with hot chicks like 1989-era Teri Hatcher gyrating on stage non-stop, or is that another thing ‘80s movies lied to me about?
5) Finally, Tango and Cash break out of prison, which is certainly a very dramatic development, but NOW apparently the paper is getting stingy with its exclamation points?
Also, after hearing that they’ve escaped, Perret takes the two mice out of their box and rubs them against his face. I’m starting to think this was not in the script but was instead a weird fetish Jack Palance had that they just decided to incorporate into the movie.
Mike: So as fugitives from the law, Cash’s first stop is the R&D dept of the LAPD, where he stocks up on guns in full view of at least 14 other cops, also while still wearing his prison uniform. It’s here he meets his version of Q, known as Owen, a mad genius with an unlimited budget from the police department and no civilian oversight whatsoever. He will prove to be a major asset to Tango and Cash.
Owen actually mumbles the line, “The gun boots are great,” so Kevin I think that’s your answer as to how Cash was able to dive out a window and shoot at a guy with his feet at the same time. (Kevin: I can’t possibly see how basically putting a bomb in the boots of a cop who apparently does a lot of running and landing onto hard surfaces from great heights will ever be an issue.)
Kevin: Tango to one of the agents that set them up: “From the look of your diet it’s obvious you’re not too interested in counting calories. Could it be that you’re just too busy … COUNTING THE MONEY THEY PAID YOU TO SET US UP!” Stallone kind of rushes through the end of that line as if even he knew how lame it was and just wanted to move on.
I’ll note that after Cash pays the $5 cover to get into Cleopatra’s, he briefly does the “put head down and cover part of face with hand” move, the only time either Tango or Cash try to disguise themselves in a town where their faces have apparently been plastered across the front page of the newspapers for several years.
CJ: Cash is at the Cleopatra Club looking for Katherine, who apparently goes by the stage name Kiki. He first asks a waitress who tells him she doesn’t know anyone by that name; he next asks a bartender who tells him there are 100 people with that name working there. If I went looking for someone at a club, and was told what Cash was told, my takeaway would basically be “So either she’s not here or everyone is her.”
Kevin: Yeah what’s the deal, depending on who you talk to either no one named Katherine has ever stepped foot in this place, or apparently the entire staff, including the men, is comprised of people named Katherine. All I know is … shit who cares about that now, Teri Hatcher is on stage!
Mike: Teri Hatcher is so damn hot. She’s so hot there’s a shot of her talking in front of a life-sized portrait of herself right behind her.
Kevin: But why did Katherine need to take a break from her softcore stripping routine to pretend to play the drums in the most rudimentary way possible? Also why did Joe the bartender have to be in charge of giving her the drumsticks at just the right moment? She gets all bitchy with him, but I think he and I, the viewer, are on the same page that that shouldn’t be Joe’s job.
Cash continues to be a master of keeping a low profile: He walks right into Katherine’s changing room filled with naked chicks and basically announces in front of everyone, “Your fugitive brother Ray Tango says you could help me find him.” Good thing that high-class strippers subscribe to the “snitches get stitches” philosophy. Also, it would have been easier to find Tango if you hadn’t separated for no reason earlier.
So with cops swarming outside, Cash and Katherine make the most logical choice anyone could make in this situation: get Cash past the cops by dressing him as a woman. We then cut to … a “woman” who anyone on the police force should clearly recognize is Kurt Russell in a wig, but hey it apparently works.
CJ: I don’t care if I’d been stranded alone on a desert island for 20 years, I’d still know right away that was Kurt Russell in drag.
Kevin: I’d normally say that the cops would have easily found Cash in the time it took for him to doll himself up, including shaving his legs from the looks of it, but I’ll just chalk that up to the fact that men are faster at everything, including being women.
Mike: Tango’s captain then tracks him down at his sister’s house, which you would think would be under SWAT team surveillance, especially since an inmate broke out of prison and multiple people died, but of course it’s not. They sent 50 uniformed cops to Kiki’s burlesque job, but zero cops to her actual home …
Kevin: Also when Cash is back at Tango’s strangely not-under-surveillance house and getting a massage from Katherine, he’s still under the impression she is sort of Tango’s girlfriend, but he’s still obviously planning on fucking her the first chance he gets, correct?
CJ: All I know is that if I then saw them on the couch and thought my sister was fucking someone, I wouldn’t quietly watch like Tango, I would be violently vomiting.
Mike: Anyway, Capt. Schroeder gives Tango and Cash a 24-hour deadline to clear their names. What happens at the end of that 24 hours, I couldn’t tell you. I guess Tango and Cash go back to jail? He wasn’t very clear on the ramifications of the 25th hour. Said something about the Feds being involved, but no one seemed too concerned.
Kevin: Tango’s captain: “I can only keep the department off your backs for another 24 hours; the feds are on your case.” So yeah, what does that mean exactly? Well the captain says they have 24 hours to find the guy who set them up. Kind of vague, but what does the 24-hour deadline matter anyway since Cash immediately produces a tape showing that the chief piece of evidence against them was clearly doctored? So they’re good right?
Apparently not, since the captain just walks away after giving them the name and address of the guy who helped frame them. Thanks I guess, but why wasn’t the captain and all the other cops who apparently worship Tango already working this guy over as soon as they got this tip?
Then after they find Perret’s henchman and use the world’s most obvious good cop/bad cop routine on him …
… he immediately gives up Perret’s name (once again supercops Tango and Cash have apparently never heard of this crazy old man who controls all the drugs in their city and is the exact opposite of low profile) and location. Great, so now they have proof they were framed, as well as the name and location of the guy who set them up, all with like 16 hours to spare in their arbitrary deadline. So they’re good now, right? I guess not, because they have to steal a Murder Van from the LAPD and kill everyone themselves.
CJ: As Tango and Cash begin their assault on his compound, Cash both throws the gearshift to the front and to the back when he needs a little boost. So which is it?
Mike: Also Perret’s security system consists of the NFL’s greatest cameramen working freelance for him around the clock. Perret’s overhead must be huge. He’s got tons of guys on the payroll and they never take a minute off work!
And I gotta hand it to Perret that with Tango and Cash on the loose he certainly did not skimp on security. He has an entire private army with bazookas, surface-to-air missiles, and various “technicals.” Hell he even has a Bigfoot Monster Truck there to try and kill them. It’s a wonder they weren’t more successful, although weirdly his team did not seem to be on high alert or anything. Perret has kidnapped Tango’s sister as a precaution, while Perret’s main bodyguard told Tango and Cash where the hideout is and is waiting there himself to duke it out with them, so I’m not sure why everyone was still taken by such surprise.
CJ: As Tango and Cash begin their assault, Tango points out they are in a maze. Immediately every idiot in theaters across America goes “Ohhhhhhhhh!” Have any of you ever experienced that? That happened to me twice when I saw “Troy.” The first was when they talk about Achilles being dipped but was held around his heel. The second was when the army dropped out from the giant wooden horse. I remember hearing someone say “Ohhhhhhh! That’s the Trojan Horse.” I wasn’t even out of college and I already knew my world was doomed.
Mike: FACILITY DESTRUCT SEQUENCE!?! The whole place is rigged to blow, plus there’s a female countdown just like in “Alien”!
For the entire movie Perret’s two business partners were so wary of his plan and acted like they thought he was as crazy as we did, yet all of a sudden they are really amped for Tango and Cash to come through the door. They’re both smiling, and Quan even says, “Let them come!” Two minutes later they are both dead.
CJ: After Tango and Cash destroy the place, Perret and his cronies never seemed more confident as they load up their guns. I appreciate confidence, but basically they are saying, “Our rampaging, out-for-justice enemies just took out a whole compound of bad guys, but they’ve fallen right into our trap. Send in an old Asian guy and Jack Palance! Mwa ha ha ha!”
Kevin: Yeah I can’t be the only one disappointed that Tango and Cash load up these badass-looking giant machine guns, with weirdly tiny clips though, all so they can … gun down two middle-aged men. Also apparently I wasn’t the only one who noticed that Tango really did most of the heavy lifting at the end in terms of taking out the bad guys (although Cash does get shot in the arm, but in true action movie fashion it has no effect on him since the bullet “went right through”):
CJ: Grenade down a guy’s pants? For when you want to kill a guy but you want him to be really focused on how fucked he is. Also I’m not quite sure why Perret’s master plan was to blow up his entire compound. (Or why he took the time to make this adorable little doodle of a giant explosion for Tango and Cash to find):
Mike: I love the ending when Tango & Cash murder Perret:
Cash: “Alright Tango let’s take him alive.”
Tango: “Knee caps on three.”
Cash: “Call it.”
Tango: “One, two …”
(They both go on two and they both shoot Perret right in the noggin. Cash even shoots him with his ridiculous boot gun.)
Tango: “My sights are off.”
Cash: “Mine too.”
Kevin: Tango and Cash and Perret are like the opposite of Sherlock and Moriarty or Bond and Blofeld or any other great hero/villain combo in history. Again, even though they are both supercops they had no idea who this guy was who was setting them up and controlling the entire drug and gun business on the West Coast. Then when he finally reveals himself they rudely talk over him while he’s delivering his explanation of his evil plan, before they shoot him in the head. Essentially the climax is Tango and Cash gunning down a 90-year-old man they had never seen or heard of until literally like two minutes earlier.
Mike: Afterwards we see that the countdown to the self destruct sequence on Perret’s hideout is down to 20 seconds, leaving Tango, Cash, and Kiki just enough time to sprint out the front door and jump behind a mound of dirt for cover. Then they all have a light-spirited argument as Perret’s headquarters explodes, filling the air with the unmistakable stench of the burning corpses they left behind. What fun!
Kevin: I’ll note that it would probably take me longer than 20 seconds to exit a first floor apartment, yet the three of them manage to do it while starting from essentially the second floor of an IKEA. Not sure exactly how old man Perret expected to make his escape, but why am I questioning anything he does, he’s been super logical and rational up to now!
Mike: Then the movie ends with not only a high five but also a dissolve into a freeze-frame of a completely different high five!
I also notice the final headline doesn’t have an exclamation point either; instead it reads “Heroes Again…” like the newspaper is disappointed in this fact.
CJ: If “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” doesn’t have a scene where Sly and Kurt high five each other, then it’s a fail for me.
Kevin: I’ll close by noting that the headline on the right rather defensively says “Ask Not What the Critics Say,” but as far as the critics here at Tough Guy Digest are concerned, this movie still rules. Thanks for a great week of memories Sly and Kurt, now let’s close out with a clip of you two promoting the film on Oprah, in which Sly was still obviously really committed to the Tango look: