Monday, December 22, 2014

Newsploitation: Doing the Box Office Tango for Cash

We are admittedly big fans of Kurt Russell here at Video Junkie.  And we are also begrudgingly fans of Sylvester Stallone.  Well, maybe me more than Tom.  Anyway, back in the ‘80s these guys were action Gods for me, so when it was announced they were teaming up in a film it was going to be action movie heaven, right? What I wanted was “Snake” Plissken battling alongside John Rambo.  What I got was TANGO & CASH, one of the more absurd buddy cop flicks of the ‘80s which celebrates it 25th birthday today.

Telling the simple story of L.A.’s two best cops – rivals Raymond Tango (Stallone) and Gabriel Cash (Russell) – who team up after being framed by a crime boss (Jack Palance), TANGO & CASH is a pretty blatant attempt at the buddy cop comedy formula and for good reason. The previous year had been a big reality check for Stallone.  Reeling from the disappointments of COBRA (1986) and OVER THE TOP (1987), Sly retreated to the land of comfort for him – the sequel.  In this case it was the further adventures of his now superhuman Vietnam vet in RAMBO III (1988).  Unfortunately, American audiences were tired of the character and the film drew a disappointing $53.7 million in the United States (the film still did well overseas).  That summer audiences had turned their back on John Rambo for another John – John McClain.  DIE HARD (1988) proved to be a breakout hit and ended up the highest grossing action film of that year.  Stallone took note of people preferring more “realistic” action scenarios and adjusted his filmography accordingly.

Believe it or not, Russell wasn’t the original choice for Gabriel Cash in this film.  In Variety on January 30, 1989, it was announced that Patrick Swayze would be playing the role opposite Stallone. However, that quickly changed and come February Russell had been cast in the film, which was initially called THE SETUP.  I’m not sure Swayze would have been good as a smartass cop, but the choices being made on this Peter Guber-Jon Peters produced flick weren’t the most sound, just look at who they chose as director.  Andrey Konchalovskiy (credited on the film as Andrei Konchalovsky) signed onto the project in April 1989 and was about as wrong for the project as you could imagine.  Sure, he had made RUNAWAY TRAIN (1985) but his film previous to TANGO & CASH was the tiny drama HOMER AND EDDIE (1989) starring Whoopi Goldberg and Jim Belushi as a con woman and retarded guy, respectively, on a road trip.  And in the months before signing on, he had directed an opera.  Yes, truly someone you want doing a $50 million dollar action picture. TANGO & CASH began filming in June 1989 and – surprise, surprise – the Russian director quickly found himself in over his head.  So much so that Variety ran a headline on August 28 screaming: “Konchalovsky Replaced by Magnoli on TANGO” (Konchalovsky has always contended he asked to be released from the film).  Magnoli was one Albert Magnoli, who had previously had a hit for Warner Bros. with PURPLE RAIN (1984).  Jesus, can anyone get an action director on this damn pic?  Anyway, major reshoots took place in September and early October 1989.

Amazingly, TANGO & CASH did make it to theaters on its planned December 22 release date.  The film opened in second place with a haul of $6.6 million that weekend (it was unable to unseat the month old CHRISTMAS VACATION [1989], but did debut better than Spielberg’s ALWAYS [1989]).  In total, the film made $63,408,614 in the United States, which paled in comparison to the flick Guber & Peters had earlier that year from Warner Bros. studio.  Some little flick called BATMAN (1989).  It did prove to be the biggest hit for Stallone's box office “dark” period from 1986-1993 though.  On the bright side, the film ended up establishing Russell as an action star.  Sure, we loved him in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) and BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986) but those hadn’t produced big numbers.  So if TANGO & CASH did anything, it helped establish Russell as legit in the eyes of the mainstream public; he would follow up with big hits like BACKDRAFT (1991), TOMBSTONE (1993), and STARGATE (1994).  Amusingly, another film semi-related to this action epic came out on Christmas day in limited release.  Yes, Konchalovskiy’s low budget HOMER AND EDDIE hit a few theaters three days after his $50 plus million dollar blockbuster unspooled on 1,400 screens nationwide.  In my best Jack Palance voice: “Tango…and Cash…Homer…and Eddie.”  The mind boggles.

On a final note, I still find TANGO & CASH to be guilty pleasure.  It is so over-the-top that you can’t help but enjoy it.  The one place the film did score was in the cult actor casting department.  In addition to Palance as the lead bad guy, you also had supporting roles by James Hong, Brion James, Michael J. Pollard, Geoffrey Lewis, and Clint Howard.  And the prison thugs included Robert Z’Dar (off whom Stallone makes a funny Schwarzenegger put down), Billy Blanks, and Benny “The Jet” Urquidez.  Not bad at all.

Yes, this is from the actual movie:


Moments of Clarity:

3 Reactions:

  1. T&C is one of favorites and I revisit it often.

    In two days I'll be celebrating Christmas at my parents house. It will be a race between my brother and I to see who's the first to whip out the Jack Palance impression "Cash and Tango, Tango and Cash".

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  2. Can you expand on Stallone's "dark period" and why its 1986 to 1993? Is this a commonly held belief between Stallone's fans or just a William and Tom thing?

    As much as I love RAMBO 1 & 2, ROCKY 2 & 3, and TANGO AND CASH I've never liked Stallone as much as I feel like I should. I recognize that he sits on the Mount Rushmore of Action Stars with Bruce Willis and Schwarzenegger, but for me it was always Bruce Willis, Van Damme and Schwarzenegger (and more recently, add Jason Statham) that I topped my "can do no wrong" "man crush" list.

    As a more casual Stallone fan I look at his filmography and would say his "dark period" would be 1986 to 2007. I can't imagine anyone thinking that 1994's THE SPECIALIST, 1995's JUDGE DREDD, 1995's ASSSASINS, or 1996's DAYLIGHT are much better than the films released in the few years previous. I actually like CLIFFHANGER and DEMOLTION MAN more than those four.

    I also I find interesting that you started at 1986. I've never cared much for COBRA but thought I was alone in that opinion.

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  3. Hey, Jason, thanks for the comments. The "dark" period is in reference solely to the box office takings during that time. Stallone had two huge hits in 1985 (RAMBO II and ROCKY IV) and didn't really reach those levels again until 1993 (with CLIFFHANGER).

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