Tango & Cash (1989, Andrey Konchalovskiy)

The scary thing about Tango & Cash is its ability to improve. Not sure who wrote or directed the end of the second act, when Kurt Russell gets to act opposite people besides Sylvester Stallone and you remember it’s actually an achievement to make him so unlikable for so long, but it’s a lot better. During the sequence where Teri Hatcher gets to be profoundly objectified, the editors even manage to string together a subtle—for Tango & Cash—suspense sequence. It’s not great, but it’s about the only time in the movie you think anyone involved with it should be trusted with a video project more complicated than… not a wedding, but maybe a graduation?

And the editors are not unprofessional, incompetent editors. Tango & Cash is just so incredibly bad there’s no way to make it right.

The film’s got a single credited screenwriter—Randy Feldman—but he didn’t actually write much of what’s onscreen. The strange part is there isn’t a full list of script doctors; there must’ve been some kind of blood pact. There’s a couple moments I’m convinced are Jeffrey Boam but he swore none of his material made it. There’s also the single credited director, Konchalovskiy, but we know Albert Magnoli came in and did a bunch.

So there are failures at every level but the big problem is Stallone’s atrocious. He can’t land any of the jokes. Even if seventy-five percent of his jokes weren’t homophobic one-liners he murmurs to himself at the end of every scene, he wouldn’t be able to land any of the jokes. The direction’s bad, regardless of who did it, but there are giant terrible action sequences and those would require some kind of competency to execute. So, again, it’s not incompetent. The writing is incompetent. The directing is just uninspired and insipid.

But no one could get a good performance from Stallone in this part, which seems to be him demanding another shot at Beverly Hills Cop, complete with a Harold Faltermeyer score. Faltermeyer adds some Fletch to the Axel F and, voila, Stallone as a rich, Armani-clad Beverly Hills cop who only does the job for the action. Russell’s the rough and tumble one here, not owning a shirt without a torn neck.

They’re going to terribly bicker banter at each other for ninety or so minutes of the runtime (there are like five minute end credits, thank goodness) and you forget either Russell or Stallone has ever been in a good movie, much less given a good performance. Hence why it’s so noticeable when Russell all of a sudden gets a lot more engaging—because without the charisma black hole of Stallone’s performance, Russell can still shine.

Relatively speaking. It’s still all terrible.

And then it does get worse again. The third act’s awful.

No good performances; an uncredited Geoffrey Lewis and a Clint Howard cameo are the best and it’s not Hatcher or Michael J. Pollard’s fault. Jack Palance does more than the part or movie deserves as the Mr Big. He’s not good but he’s not boring. Lots of bad and boring in Tango & Cash.

Though with Brion James’s performance… it’s hard to be bored as one watches a performance as bad as James’s. Finding out Stallone thought it was a good performance and gave James more scenes—same thing happened with Robert Z’Dar, who is also laughably bad—explains some of Tango & Cash’s badness. The disaster starts to make sense at least.

The movie’s got an interesting place in Hollywood history—it’s the last Guber-Peters Company movie after they found a new peak early in the same year with Batman then they screwed over Warner Bros. (between Batman in the summer and Tango & Cash at Christmas)—but you certainly don’t have to watch the movie for that kind of trivia.

There’s no reason to watch Tango & Cash and there never has been. Unless you’re measuring its accelerating rot rate over time. But even then why bother.

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