Tango & Cash (1989)

Tango & Cash is a 1989 American buddy cop action comedy film starring Sylvester StalloneKurt RussellJack 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.


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.

Another reason why Konchalovsky was fired was his refusal to agree to what he referred to as the “increasingly insane” demands that Peters had. Konchalovsky said that he was initially hired to make a buddy cop movie with plenty of humor, but Peters basically wanted to turn it into a spoof, without any semblance of seriousness, and Konchalovsky refused. Essentially, Konchalovsky argued that they were simply trying to make two different movies, and when Peters realized his inability to bend Konchalovsky to his will, he fired him. According to supporting actor Brion James (in a 1999 interview with Louis Paul), the film was in disarray from the very beginning and by the half-way point of the shoot, when the film was several months behind schedule, Peters and Konchalovsky were no longer speaking. James agreed that the official reason Konchalovsky was fired was because of the budget, but he also said that going over budget was not Konchalovsky’s fault, and that Konchalovsky did not deserve to be fired.
Konchalovsky, however, had nothing but praise for Sylvester Stallone, and both he and James said that despite Stallone’s ego and decision to fire the original cinematographer, and the fact that he had a hand in Konchalovsky’s firing, Stallone was the one person who held the project together, and that he was a constant voice of reason on an increasingly chaotic set.
According to Konchalovsky, by the end of principal photography, Stallone was unofficially working as producer, director and writer, as well as star, and Konchalovsky believes that had it not been for Stallone, Peters would have fired him much sooner than he did. Production sources said that Konchalovsky had been given impossible scheduling demands, and was then made the scapegoat when he fell behind.
There was also a legal battle between producers Peter Guber and Jon Peters and Warner Bros. studio. Guber and Peters complained in Los Angeles Superior Court that Warner had replaced them on the project and, over Peters’ objections, “advanced the release date of the film by many months.”The film went into production on June 12, 1989 and was originally scheduled to wrap by August 25, 1989. In late August, the directors were switched and after principal photography was finished in September, replacement director Magnoli called everyone back to the set for two more weeks of additional re-shoots, which included filming a completely new opening sequence. Filming was finally finished on October 20, 1989, eight weeks before its original scheduled theatrical opening in 1600 theatres across the United States.
The movie was racing to make its December 15 release, but due to the Warner Bros. studio’s complaints on every different cut that was edited before they approved the final (theatrical) version, it barely made the deadline and ended up being shipped to theaters in “wet prints” – an industry term meaning that it was just barely completed before its release date.Because Warner Bros. wanted no risk of the same problems with the MPAA as it had had with Cobra, its previous Stallone movie, it ordered the editors to cut some death scenes in the last part of the movie while it was being re-edited, which explain the usage of “jump cuts” every time someone is shot in the movie.One of the writers who worked on the constantly changing script for the film was Jeffrey Boam, who also worked on the scripts for the Lethal Weapon films. He did a re-write of the script, which he described as being long, incredible and awful, that didn’t change anything in the film.
Even though he completed many re-writes, he hated both the script and the film and did not want to be credited for his work.Behind-the-scenes problems (including filming, script changes, and later constant cuts and re-editing of the movie) were so big and so bad that one of the more experienced crew members said in an interview:
“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.”
The film ultimately missed its budget by over $20 million, and had to be completely re-edited by editor Stuart Baird prior to its theatrical release. Tango & Cash was one of many films to be turned over to Baird, who came onto projects as an editing “doctor” when studios such as Warner Bros. were displeased with the first cut turned in by the filmmakers. Baird was also called in by Warner Bros to re-edit another Stallone action movie, Demolition Man (1993), for the same reasons. After Baird was brought in by Warner Brothers to save the movie in the editing room, it was he who hired Hubert de La Bouillerie to edit the film and Harold Faltermeyer and Gary Chang to compose the music. Chang provided additional music near the end of the movie, because Faltermeyer could not return to re-score the final reel of the film, as it was constantly being edited because of constant complaints from Warner Bros. Because of the massive re-editing, some plot points and even some action scenes were deleted.
The theatrical trailer was made using the footage from one of the earlier cuts of the movie. This is why it shows some deleted and alternate scenes, which were changed or cut from the movie during the re-editing, which include: an alternate cut of the scene where Tango and Cash first meet in the warehouse; an alternate cut of the shower scene between Tango and Cash; a deleted or alternate fight scene between Cash and a Chinese assassin, during which Cash says “I hate you karate guys”; and a deleted scene in which Tango is reading the newspaper and then pulls out a shotgun and shoots at a car. The trailer also shows extra shots from other scenes.The film’s title during production was The Set Up.
In a 1999 interview with Louis Paul at the Chiller Theatre Convention, Brion James said this about working on Tango & Cash, and the production problems that the movie had-

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.


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.

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