Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Sylvester Stallone in the 1980s - Tango & Cash

Tango & Cash has the germ of a great idea - it seeks to embrace the absurdities of 1980s action films and transform them into knowing, winking entertainment. Who better to captain that ship than Sylvester Stallone? The star was already synonymous with egotistical self-regard, spending the decade transforming his screen persona from that of credible actor into a rolling depiction of Christ's scouring. Couple that with the writer-actor-director's inability to find hits outside of his two proven franchises (not to mention Schwarzenegger's successful transition into comedy with Twins) and Tango & Cash's appeal becomes clear - Stallone wanted to lighten up.

Reading around the film's troubled production, the most singular creative perspective comes from hairdresser and noted arachnophile Jon Peters. The executive's unceasing quest to lampoon the decade's sweatiest genre saw the film burn through several directors, beginning with Andrei Konchalovsky (a frequent collaborator of Andrei Tarkovsky) and ending with Purple Rain's Albert Magnoli. Stallone himself is also alleged to have spent a significant amount of photography at the helm but, for a control freak like Stallone, that's about as remarkable as discovering night follows day. It is this interference and incessant compromise that ends up defining the finished film.

Tango & Cash pairs Stallone with Kurt Russell, the duo playing wrongfully imprisoned cops looking to clear their names. Stallone is the highly strung yuppie policing for kicks, while Russell takes a zen surf cop designed around Patrick Swayze and transforms him into something closer to a big, adorable dog racing around in stone washed jeans and a trick boot. Tango and Cash start off as bitter rivals, each trying to outdo the other. Success is measured by how many newspaper inches their crime-fighting exploits eat up. Both cops keep tabs on their rival's copy and chuckle / groan accordingly.

Following their arrest, the two don't so much become fast friends as a couple in the making. In Lethal Weapon and its sequels we watch as Mel Gibson's scruffy, suicidal stray is gradually folded into the order Danny Glover's household represents. The closeness of their relationship is organised in familial terms with Riggs ending up something between Murtaugh's wayward little brother and an adopted son. Fraternal bonds are key to these buddy cop films, indeed their stories tend to motor along in step with the character's blossoming relationship.

Alpha examples like 48 Hrs. start from a place of contempt, thriving on their lead's differences. The case and a mutual desire to pursue it being the only common denominator. Tango & Cash skews this formula by making its heroes so similar - they're both overachieving cops with only cosmetic differences. Stallone's wardrobe and Russell's unkempt hair aren't profound ideological differences, they're minor variations on the same basic mould. This underlining similarity, as well as the couple's mounting co-dependency, seems to suggest that the film might be heading somewhere truly different by having the pair develop a romantic relationship. Then the film recoils, course-correcting by crowbarring in Teri Hatcher as a stripper for the two to bicker over before they limp towards an unusually gadget heavy finale.

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