Tango & Cash is a 1989 American buddy cop action comedy film starring Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell, Jack Palance, and Teri Hatcher. It was chiefly directed by Andrei Konchalovsky, with Albert Magnoli and Peter MacDonald taking over in the later stages of filming, with Stuart Baird overseeing post-production. The multiple directors were due to a long and troubled production process, that included numerous script rewrites and clashes between Konchalovsky and producer Jon Peters over creative differences.
The film was released in the United States on December 22, 1989, the same day as Always. Both films were the last to be released in the 1980s.
Stallone and Russell star as Raymond Tango and Gabriel Cash respectively, two rival LAPD narcotics detectives, who are forced to work together after the criminal mastermind Yves Perret (Palance) frames both of them for murder.
Beverly Hills LAPD Lieutenant Raymond Tango and Downtown Los Angeles Lieutenant Gabriel Cash have earned themselves reputations for disrupting crime lord Yves Perret’s smuggling operation in their respective jurisdictions. Perret, believing that having them killed is too “quick and easy,” develops an elaborate scheme to discredit and humiliate them before finally torturing them to death. Individually informed of a drug deal taking place later that night, the detectives meet for the first time at the location and discover a dead, wire-tapped body just as the FBI arrive and surround the duo. Agent Wyler finds Cash’s backup pistol with attached suppressor on the floor and arrests them. At their murder trial, Tango and Cash are incriminated by an audio tape; verified in court by Skinner, an audio expert, it appears to reveal them shooting the undercover FBI agent after discussing a drug purchase. With the evidence stacked against them, they plead no contest to a lesser charge in exchange for reduced sentences in a minimum-security prison; instead, they get transported to a maximum-security prison and are housed with many of the criminals they had each arrested.
Once in prison, Tango and Cash are roused from their beds and tortured by Requin, Perret’s henchman, and a gang of prisoners, until Matt Sokowski, the assistant warden and Cash’s former commanding officer, rescues them. Sokowski recommends that they escape and provides them with a plan, but Tango opts out. When Cash tries to escape, he finds Sokowski murdered and is pursued by the guards. Tango rescues him and they head to the roof; Cash ziplines outside the prison walls, but Tango is attacked by the inmate “Face” before he can. Tango manages to electrocute Face by knocking him into a transformer before also escaping. To clear their names, they separate; Tango tells Cash that if he needs to contact him, he can go to the Cleopatra Club and ask for “Katherine.”
The detectives visit the witnesses who framed them in court. Tango intercepts Wyler, who admits that Requin was in charge of the setup; Wyler gets killed in a car bomb while trying to escape. Cash discovers that Skinner made the incriminating tape himself; he starts destroying Skinner’s expensive equipment until he agrees to help exonerate them. Cash finds Katherine, Tango’s sister, but is quickly surrounded by cops; she helps Cash escape the night club by dressing him as a female.
Later that night, Tango reunites with Cash and the duo are met at Katherine’s house by Schroeder, Tango’s commanding officer. He gives them Requin’s address and tells them they have 24 hours to find out who he works for; Tango and Cash apprehend Requin and trick him into telling them Perret’s name. Cash’s weapons expert friend Owen lets them borrow a high-tech assault vehicle and the duo storm into Perret’s headquarters to confront the crime lord. However, Perret has kidnapped Katherine and starts a timer that will trigger the building’s automatic self-destruct procedure.
After killing Perret’s core security personnel and fellow crime lords, Requin appears, holding Katherine at knifepoint. He throws her aside to fight the detectives hand-to-hand and Cash kills him. Perret appears in a hall of mirrors holding a gun to Katherine’s head; both detectives pick out the correct Perret and shoot him in the forehead. They gather Katherine and barely escape as the building explodes. They joke half-seriously about Cash’s desire to date Katherine as a newspaper headline announces they’ve been completely vindicated.
- Sylvester Stallone as Lieutenant Raymond “Ray” Tango
- Kurt Russell as Lieutenant Gabriel “Gabe” Cash
- Teri Hatcher as Katherine “Kiki” Tango
- Jack Palance as Yves Perret
- Brion James as Requin
- Geoffrey Lewis as Captain Schroeder (uncredited)
- Eddie Bunker as Captain Holmes
- James Hong as Quan
- Marc Alaimo as Lopez
- Michael J. Pollard as Owen
- Robert Z’Dar as Face
- Lewis Arquette as FBI Agent Howard Wyler
- Roy Brocksmith as FBI Agent Gerard Davis
- Richard Fancy as Hal Nolan
- Phil Rubenstein as Assistant Warden Matt Sokowski
- Michael Jeter as Floyd Skinner
- Clint Howard as Slinky
- Benny Urquidez as Finn
- Billy Blanks as Max
- Kristen Dalton as Lynn
- Dale Swann as Henley
- Glenn Morshower as Philip
Production was beset with problems from the beginning. First, Patrick Swayze, who was originally cast as Cash, dropped out and went on to star in Road House (1989), then principal photography began without a completed script. Sylvester Stallone had the original director of photography, Barry Sonnenfeld, fired. Donald E. Thorin, who had shot Stallone’s movie Lock Up earlier that year, was Sonnenfeld’s replacement. Then, after nearly three months of filming, director Andrei Konchalovsky was fired by producer Jon Peters in a dispute over the movie’s ending, and was replaced with Albert Magnoli, who filmed all the chase and fight scenes in the ending. Reportedly, executive producer Peter MacDonald, who was also one of the film’s second unit directors, took over directing the movie before Magnoli was brought in. A year earlier, MacDonald had to step in as director on Stallone’s previous movie, Rambo III, after the original director was fired by Stallone. In his 1999 book of memoirs, Elevating Deception, Konchalovsky said that the reason he was fired was because he and Stallone wanted to give the film a more serious tone and make it more realistic than the producers wanted, especially Jon Peters, who kept pushing for the film to be goofier and campier, and as such, his relationship with Peters became untenable.
“This was the worst-organized, most poorly prepared film I’ve ever been on in my life. From the first day we started, no one knew what the hell anyone was doing.” This same crew member also mentioned some reasons why director Konchalovsky was fired; “He found himself in over his head. There were scenes scheduled for three days that were so complicated they should have been scheduled for six or seven days. They were trying to do a 22-week movie in 11 weeks.”
BJ: TANGO AND CASH, I had two scenes when I started the film. Konchalovsky wanted to work with me for years, he worked for Cannon, they couldn’t pay me, so I couldn’t work for them. He wanted me to work with him on RUNAWAY TRAIN. Finally, I get to work with him and he calls me in and I meet Stallone and Russell and they say ‘Yeah, he’s great.’ I just had two scenes with these guys, they chase me around, and I get beat up and that’s it. So, I get there and I’m acting with Stallone and made my character have a cockney accent just to add something . I said I’m in a movie with all of these guys, how am I going to chew the scenery with all of these fuckers? So, I created the cockney, I’m not just another hit man from Cleveland. They loved it. They played off of it, they got into it. So Stallone started re-writing the script, the script wasn’t really ready, but they were there to go, so when you got to go, you go.
The script was ready, and when it was not, he would fix it. The film was twenty million dollars over budget and I wound up being on the film for fourteen weeks. My part went from a few days, to much bigger. So, I became the main bad guy, and not Jack Palance.LP: Konchalovsky lost that picture, didn’t he?BJ: He did a great job, but Sly got him fired. Sly is very protective about his films. He got his own DP in, and the film went twenty million dollars over budget. So the studio had to justify it, and fired him, saying it was the director’s fault. It wasn’t his fault. They didn’t have a script. I was even re-writing at the end of the day, over and over. They only had three weeks left and they brought in Albert Magnoli. He did rock videos and a Prince movie (PURPLE RAIN).
They gave this guy three quarters of a million dollars to do three weeks. By the time he got there, I was like don’t talk to me, stay back. I knew this character for weeks, I know what I’m doing. It wound up being a great film, that eventually made a lot of money. It’s one of the biggest pirated videos in the history of Russia. There were 80,000 pirated copies. Warner Bros. was crazy not to market it properly, but that film was huge. I went to the Ukraine when I was shooting another film, and I was mobbed. I was in the Black Sea and I had no idea that people even knew who I was.
Stallone later said-
“I had a lot of great times on that film. Kurt nailed some of those scenes, like the pro he is.”Stallone also said his opinion about both Konchalovsky and Magnoli;Andrei was a real gentleman and I thought his take on “Tango and Cash” was very good and would’ve been infinitely more realistic had he been allowed to continue. His replacement was more attuned to comic pop culture so the film had a dramatic shift into a more light hearted direction.
- “Best of What I Got” – Bad English
- “Let the Day Begin” – The Call
- “Don’t Go” – Yazoo
- “Poison” – Alice Cooper
- “It’s No Crime” – Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds
- “Harlem Nocturne” – Darktown Strutters
The soundtrack was never released, as the songs were already released on the artists’ albums.The film score, which was composed by Harold Faltermeyer, was released for the first time on January 30, 2007 by La-La Land Records (LLLCD 1052) in 3000 Limited Sets.
Despite the film’s troubled production, Tango & Cash was a moderate box office success. The film opened on December 22, 1989, among the last theatrically released American films of the 1980s. During its opening weekend, the movie grossed $6,628,918 from 1,409 theaters, averaging $4,704 per theater and ranking #2 at the box office. The film ultimately earned $63,408,614 in the United States, above its $55 million production budget.The film also sold well on VHS. The film was reviewed by Nathan Rabin for his column “Forgotbusters” at The Dissolve website, which consists of Rabin analyzing how films that were among the top 25 grossing titles of a given year have not had lasting cultural influence. Rabin said that there was more affection and attention to Tango & Cash than he had expected, based on feedback from people who had seen the film since 1990.Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of “B+” on an A+ to F scale.
The film has a score of 33% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 42 reviews and an average rating of 4.3 out of 10. The critical consensus states: “Brutally violent and punishingly dull, this cookie-cutter buddy cop thriller isn’t even fun enough to reach ‘so bad it’s good’ status”. The New York Times criticized the plot, the screenplay, and the acting. Michael Wilmington of the Los Angeles Times called it “a waste of talent and energy on all levels”, criticizing the film as both illogical and predictable. Dave Kehr of the Chicago Tribunewrote that one interpretation of the film is “a crafty foreigner’s sly parody of the current state of American culture”.Tango & Cash was nominated for three Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst Actor (Sylvester Stallone), Worst Actor (Kurt Russell in drag) and Worst Screenplay, and it lost all three.