Revisiting Tango & Cash

As promised/threatened in my Letterboxd review, this is an expanded look at my recent rewatch of Tango & Cash, starring Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell. It’s also a quick jot on how memory can be a liar.

Tango & Cash came out in the amazingly influential year of 1989. This was the summer of Batman, the same summer as Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, where we went with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, had the unfortunate instance of seeing Ghostbusters 2, and we were briefly were aware of who Yahoo Serious was. If I were to point to a solid year for helping define my future viewing habits, 1989 is likely it.

As part of that year, Tango & Cash had a real impact on me when I saw it in the theater — I have had a fondness for it since. I remember liking it. I remember thinking it was silly, but that it was nonetheless enjoyable.

So I took it upon myself to rewatch it for the first time in literal decades. I’d seen the BluRay in the bargain bin at Walmart (always a good sign!) and $5 really didn’t seem like a big ask for a movie that my memory told me was fun and that I enjoyed.

I watched it with my eldest padawan, to share another “bad but enjoyable movie” and hoping for lightning to strike as it did with Over the Top, another less-than-stellar but rewatchable Stallone flick.

When you add in Kurt Russell, who can get me into a movie theater to watch anything, it seems like a sure fire successful evening of movie viewing. For pete’s sake, I’m more excited for Christmas Chronicles 2 than I have any right to be.

So we settled in to watch Tango & Cash with low expectations but high hopes.

On the plus side, these two character actors are in it. If you know them, you know why that’s a treat.

What. An. Artifact.

This is such a low-rent attempt to ride Lethal Weapon’s coattails it’s insulting. There are bits of dialogue clearly inserted to set up for a whacky sequel. It’s like this movie is constructed as an example of everything that was wrong with the 1980s action genre.

Stallone was better than this. Russell was better than this. The buddy cop genre was better than this. In light of what happened and got exposed with the LAPD just a few years after this came out, there’s also a scene that’s a bit awkward to watch.

But it’s biggest sin is unquestionably its attempt to copy Gibson & Glover’s easy chemistry in Lethal Weapon. You don’t get that gentle spark, and neither character has the manic arc that make Riggs and Murtaugh work so well together.

The idea of having Tango be an ultra-successful stock trader who stays on the police force just for giggles is more than a little bit of a stretch. The idea of having Kurt Russell carry a pistol with a laser sighting that’s easily as heavy and large as the gun itself is dumb, and if I’m criticizing something that minor you know the movie is something of a stinker. (It’s also a clear imitation of the iconic weapon in the poster for The Terminator.)

I mean come on.

The worst criticism of it came from my eldest padawan. “It’s boring.” We had to make the call to finish it with 25 minutes left and we just watched in silence and fended off sleep.

There’s essentially a demolition derby at a construction site during the climax, which wakes you up just because you think that, finally, they figured out that the movie was absurd so they might as well go for it.

And so it’s yet another reminder that sometimes it’s better to let your memories lie to you about how much you enjoyed a movie in the past. There’s always a risk to revisiting something you loved.

Did I change? Did I misjudge? Who knows, maybe I’ll come to love it again in the future. At this point, though, it seems my memory lied to me just because I so loved going to the movie theater back then, that I enjoyed pretty much any excuse to park my butt in one of those seats for 2 hours.

Tango & Cash certainly would like me to think so.