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A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: Tango & Cash – The 30th Anniversary

“Well, if it isn’t Armani with a badge”. A 30th Anniversary celebration of “Tango & Cash”. Faced with endless production problems, including going over budget and going over the allotted filming schedule, to where the final theatrical cut was done eight weeks before hitting theaters. The problems didn’t end there that included a fired director and script changes, and constant cuts and re-editing of the movie. “Tango & Cash” has become a staple of the buddy cop genre and a fan favorite of both Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell’s careers. 

Buddy cop films in the 80’s, were the hottest ticket around at the movies. The term buddy cop is a genre with plots involving two people of very different and conflicting personalities. They are forced to work together to solve a crime, sometimes learning from each other in the process. Film critic Roger Ebert coined the term “Wunza Movie”. He used it to describe the subgenre, it’s a pun on the phrase “One’s a…” that could be used to describe the contrasts between the two characters in a typical film.

The genre was popularized by the 1982 film “48 Hrs.” starring Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte. In 1987, the buddy cop genre reached its apex and Mel Gibson and Danny Glover’s “Lethal Weapon”, the ultimate buddy cop flick was born. The 80’s were filled with them including: the underrated “Running Scared” with Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines, “Midnight Run” with Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin, “Stakeout” with Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez. The list goes on and on as the buddy cop formula has never died and is still a popular genre today. 

The one where here to celebrate is a staple of the buddy cop genre and a fan favorite, it’s 1989’s “Tango & Cash” with Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell. The film was originally known as “The Set Up” and was based on a script by Randy Feldman (Eddie Murphy’s “Metro”) which was based on an idea by producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber (“Innerspace”, “Witches Of Eastwick”, “Rain Man” and 2018’s “A Star Is Born”). Star Sylvester Stallone was always attached to “Tango & Cash” but was at one time set to co-star with Patrick Swayze. In March 1989 Russian filmmaker Andrei Konchalovsky signed to direct “Tango & Cash”. After Konchalovsky signed on, Swayze dropped out and went on to star in “Road House” (1989). Swayze was replaced by Kurt Russell.

“Tango & Cash” was known for it’s behind the scenes problems (including filming, director and script changes, and later constant cuts and re-editing of the movie). The problems 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”. 

After nearly three months of filming, director Andrei Konchalovsky was fired by producer Jon Peters in a dispute over the ending of “Tango & Cash”. In his 1999 book of memoirs, called “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 dissolved.

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. Even though Konchalovsky was fired he received directing credit on the film and has his name displayed on screen. 

Konchalovsky was replaced with director Albert Magnoli, director of Prince’s “Purple Rain”. Magnoli filmed all the chase and fight scenes in the films climax. Executive producer Peter MacDonald who was one of the film’s second unit directors, took over as director 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. A legal battle ensued between the producers, Peter Guber and Jon Peters and the films studio Warner Bros. 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”. 

Sylvester Stallone did in-fact have the original director of photography, Barry Sonnenfeld fired. Sonnenfeld had later become the director of “Men In Black” and “The Addams Family” movies. Stallone had his director of photography, who had shot Stallone’s movie “Lock Up” earlier in the year, come in as Sonnenfeld’s replacement.

The film went into production on June 12, 1989 and was originally scheduled to wrap by August 25, 1989. Filming was finally finished two months behind schedule on October 20th, which was eight weeks before its original scheduled theatrical opening. The movie was racing to make its December 15 release date, but due to Warner Bros complaints on every different cut that was edited before they approved the final (theatrical) version. “Tango & Cash” barely made the deadline and ended up being shipped to theaters in “wet prints” an industry term used 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”, the studios previous Stallone movie. They had ordered the editors to cut some death scenes in the last part of the movie while it was being re-edited, which explains 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 screenwriter 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. 

At one point editor, producer and director Stuart Baird (“Executive Decision”, “U.S. Marshall’s” and “Star Trek Nemesis”) was brought in by Warner Bros to save the movie in the editing room. Baird hired Hubert de La Bouillerie to edit the film and “Beverly Hills Cop” composer Harold Faltermeyer to compose the music. Composer Gary 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 action scenes were deleted. The released theatrical trailer was made using the footage from one of the earlier cuts of the movie. This is evident in the trailer that shows some deleted and alternate scenes, which were changed or cut from the movie during the re-editing. 

Alternate scenes 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.

Actors Pierce Brosnan, Kevin Costner, Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, Mel Gibson, Don Johnson, Michael Keaton, Ray Liotta, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Robert Patrick, Bill Paxton, Ron Perlman, Dennis Quaid, Gary Sinise, Bruce Willis and James Woods were all on the list and considered to play the Kurt Russell role of Cash. As much as I love all of the actors considered, Kurt Russell was perfect in the movie. There was no better choice. 

There is an uncredited and early career appearance by Jean Claude Van Damme in the films climax. He is featured in the scene as Cash is fighting one of Perret’s (Jack Palance) henchmen in the climactic battle. There was a rumor at one point that Arnold Schwarzenegger was considered to play Cash opposite Sylvester Stallone’s Tango, but it wasn’t true at all as Schwarzenegger was never considered. Both Stallone and Schwarzenegger were still competitive and in a rivalry. 

In a couple quick facts. In the scene where “Tango & Cash” escape from the prison, Cash turns to Tango and asks if he stopped “for coffee and a Danish”. Tango replies, “I hate Danish”, which was an in-joke referring to Sylvester Stallone’s recent divorce from Danish actress Brigitte Nielsen. The glasses Sylvester Stallone wears early in the film are his own and not a prop. Stallone usually wears contact lenses in his films and if you look closely, his lenses in his glasses show that he is very near sighted in one eye, less so in the other.

The scene where Tango faces an oncoming truck with nothing but a gun was borrowed from Jackie Chan’s “Police Story”, where Jackie Chan performed the stunt. As a “response” to the homage, Chan would later reference the make shift zip-line prison escape moment in this film in a scene early in the third installment of the “Police Story” series, “Supercop” in 1992. While filming the big climax in which the back of the SUV that Tango & Cash are driving around the quarry had caught fire. The flames wouldn’t go out when filming was over. Both Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone were caught in a cross draft and Stallone was so close to the fire that his hair was singed in places.

While the film ultimately missed its budget by over $20 million, the film opened on December 22nd 1989, and during its opening weekend, the movie grossed over $6 million dollars and ranked #2 at the box office. The film ultimately earned over $63 million in the United States, above its $55 million production budget. The film also sold well on VHS. 

In September of 2019, Stallone who is riding the nostalgia train, by revisiting his older properties had revealed that he has a story written for a potential sequel. The filmmaker stated he is trying to convince Kurt Russell to sign onto the project, even though Russell is a bit more hesitant to jump back in and play the hits again. Kurt Russell responded to Stallone saying: “I don’t know, Sly…There we were in our prime and now we’re in our unprime, I dunno”. Stallone replied, “Kurt, I’m telling you, ya gotta go in on this”. Stallone is still in talks with Kurt Russell and anticipates the film will be made. 

The tension in “Tango & Cash” is high as it thunders through it being a buddy cop actioner, prison drama, escape drama, and a race against the clock finale. It’s an enjoyable rollercoaster ride, with sleek action sequences as Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell work really well together. While it’s no “Lethal Weapon”, like it or not “Tango & Cash” is played strictly to the formula. 

There is laughs with great one liners, such as a scene where Kurt Russell asks Stallone: “Who are you Rambo?” and Stallone responds: “Rambo? Rambo’s a pussy”. Or the scene where Tango has just stuck a grenade down the big baddie Requin’s pants and responds “My contribution to birth control”. There is just so much more great lines, while keeping to thrills and spills with the usual macho bonding, that is all packed into it’s lean 1 hour and 40 minute run time. “Tango & Cash” is a tighter and harder-hitting action flick than you might expect and one of the staples of the buddy cop genre. 

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros is the movie critic for Maui Watch. He lives on the beautiful island of Maui and is also a member of the elite Hawaii Film Critics Society and an active cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, where his Grandfather started his love for the movies.

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