Joe’s $1 a week cinema #5: Tango & Cash
Tango and Cash, 1989. Spoiler alert: Tango and Cash start out hating one another but become friends.
The Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell film Tango & Cash was the last of the great ampersand films of 1989, following hot on the heels of Turner & Hooch and Milo & Otis.
For all of that landmark year filmmakers had been experimenting with various human/animal combinations in an effort to find out what audiences would most respond to. In Milo & Otis they tried using two animals, in Turner & Hooch they tried a human and an animal and in Tango & Cash they used a human and Sylvester Stallone.
Tango & Cash marked both the zenith and the end of the action film’s golden era. No other motion picture follows all the necessary rules so faithfully, comprehensively and joyously. Allow me to demonstrate:
Ray Tango and Gabriel Cash are the two top narcotics detectives in Los Angeles but boy, they just don’t get along: Tango wears Armani suits, plays the stockmarket and drives a nice sports car while Cash wears old jeans, lives on beer and pizza and also drives a nice sports car.* Then one day their lives are turned upside down when a drug kingpin frames them for a crime they did not commit. The pair is sent to prison where they are tortured by other inmates (only after being hopelessly outnumbered and having taken a few of the bad guys down with them) before escaping to clear their names.
Along the way they must enlist the help of Tango’s sister, whom cash begins to feel attracted towards – a situation Tango very much disapproves of. At one point Tango must also temporarily disguise himself by dressing up as a woman, which prompts some raised eyebrows among the onlookers!
After some good old-fashioned police legwork, Tango and Cash pay an underneath-the-radar visit to Tango’s old boss, who always believed in him, and borrow a special purpose heavy assault vehicle. They drive the vehicle to the drug kingpin’s compound and kill all the criminals in reverse order of importance before confronting the kingpin himself. Shockingly, he has taken Tango’s sister hostage. In an effort to free her, Tango and Cash both shoot the kingpin in the head at exactly the same time. The three then have just seconds to escape before the place explodes (on account of the self-destruct mechanism that was triggered during the fighting) but thankfully they just manage to get out of there as the compound blows up behind them.
Then as the debris rains down around them Cash asks whether Tango will let him date his sister, Tango says no, and the two end up giving each other a high-five, which is freeze framed.
As all cinema purists will agree, this goes above and beyond the call of duty. Tango & Cash didn’t just tick off every possible box on the action movie ingredient list – it was the box.
But then something happened, a strange and mysterious event the likes of which the world had never seen and would never see again: the 1990s.
Suddenly the simple laws of cops versus robbers, Communists versus Republicans and Qantas versus Ansett were being replaced by a complex politico-cultural structure hitherto unseen in action films. Take 1990 itself: In Die Hard 2 the terrorist wasn’t even a foreigner, while Darkman was what a film aficionado might describe as “unspeakably retarded”. If it wasn’t for Kindergarten Cop America probably would have lost the Cold War.
Perhaps unsurprisingly it wasn’t long after the turn of that decade that I started smoking dope and listening to jazz, wondering where I belonged in the universe. I ended up falling for a girl called Kristy Lee Ball, who then dumped me for a born again Christian called Mike, whose friends tried to bash me up in the middle of a church outing. I spent the remainder of Year 11 wearing black and writing poetry in Latin.
Society’s fabric was tearing at the seams.
They say if you remember the Nineties then you weren’t really there. Well I was there and I remember at least half of it: The philosophy, the dreaming, the waistcoats. I remember Ash the Bogan telling me about a new band he had discovered called “Pink Floyd”, Karl running off to join a freestyle bakery and my mum banning me from having a happening with Leonie Makings. That old lady was one square lid.
The same people also said that the Nineties opened the mind but for me it just made me yearn for a simpler time; when the good guys and the bad guys all stood up and introduced themselves and you always knew whose side you were on; when most of the problems in your life could still be solved by your mum; and when armoured four-wheel-drives were still rare enough to be exciting.
Rating: Two stars for Tango and two more for Cash.
*It is an unassailable rule of every 1980s action film that no matter how poor you are you are allowed to drive a nice sports car. Note that in Beverly Hills Cop a black blue collar worker from Detroit cruises around affluent LA suburbs in a Mercedes convertible. If this had happened in real life he would’ve ended up like Rodney King.
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