Monday, April 28, 2008

Tango & Cash: A Violent Work of Art

Rambo and Snake Plissken play the title roles of Detective Ray Tango and Gabriel Cash. Tango is a slick dressing, glasses wearing, badass cop hell bent on getting his man at any cost. He’s sophisticated, well muscled, and makes a shit ton of money playing the stock market. He’s in the cop game for good old American action. We see him stand in the middle of a highway and face down a tanker truck full of blow in the movies opening scene. Sorry boys, no white Christmas this year.

Cash is another wisecracking rogue cop from the Central division. Shit is real down there. Where Tango’s station has palm trees and sunshine, Central has grey and hobos. Cash is a schlub who wears t-shirts, boots that shoot bullets out of the sole, and is not too proud to steal a slice of pizza from some dude walking by.

The two rival cops have made careers out of ruining the business of shadowy arms dealer, Yves Perret (Jack Palance in prime over the top madman glory), a man obsessed with watching his precious pet rats in a maze (you know a man in a nice suit playing with vermin can’t be all there). They’ve cost him millions, and of course, simply putting a bullet in their respective brain pans wouldn’t give him the satisfaction a megalomaniacal international criminal demands from his vengeance. No, they will not be made martyrs. With the help of an army of corrupt FBI agents (seriously, fuck those guys) and his trusty right-hand man, Requin (the late, great, Brion James, with a wee little pony tail and a rough ass British accent—“’e’s thuh guvnah”) set out our boys up but good.

The duo winds up in a prison that resembles the medieval fortress of some sadistic warlord. “They don’t put cops in general population.” Oh, let me tell you something, Tango. If you have the money, they’ll stick cops wherever you damn well please. Everyone is corrupt, our boys get pummeled, electrocuted, and generally FUBAR in a number of ways. Their only chance is a risky escape in the middle of an electrical storm that entails leaping from the top of a building, grabbing a power line, and using their belts to slide over the prison walls. Then all that remains is to clear their names, rescue the girl, and take down the bad guy. Nothing these he-man, super-cops can’t handle.

This is the all-star cast of all-star casts. Not only to we have Rocky Balboa and Jack Burton themselves doing battle with the powerful duo of Palance and James, but we got Teri Hatcher as Tango’s stripper sister who has a crush on Cash, James Hong as Quan, and Michael J. Pollard as Cash’s mildly retarded gadget crafting buddy (who do you think came up with those gun-boots?). Clint Howard pops up, Eddie Bunker shows his grizzled mug, and Billy Blanks even makes an uncredited appearance as a prison thug.

You know why I love this movie? I love this movie because in the climactic scene, they’re not afraid to have a bullet proof SUV with a 20-mil cannon on the side, tearing through a giant dirt maze while blowing the living shit out of everything, and being pursued, not only by multiple monster trucks (Gravedigger style, not just the jacked-up, redneck variety), but industrial grade earth-moving equipment. That, my friend, is balls.

In my opinion, this may have been the last hurrah of late 80’s, smart-ass, odd-couple, buddy-cop movies. They have a wisecrack for every occasion, aren’t afraid to beat information out of some sleaze-ball, and play by their own rules. There are not one, but two instances where a hand grenade is stuffed down the front of a pair of pants. Today, some grubby little Michael Bay knock-off would sink his eager little claws into this and we would wind up with a lot of seizure inducing cuts, or it would be relegated to the straight-to-video market and no one would take is seriously except yours truly and a half-dozen other like-minded people in the world. It would be tossed aside and forgotten before the next remake of a classic movie even gets the green light.

The era of seeing this brand of action on the big screen is long gone and regrettably lamented by few.

In the 70’s, Roger Corman had hungry young directors cutting their teeth on b-grade action movies for the drive-in circuit. I would like the DTV market to become the twenty-first century equivalent, where you go to pay your dues and hone your chops, but instead it is peopled largely by hacks and film-school rejects. There are a few bright spots, a slight glimmer of hope. Action luminaries like Seagal, Van Damme, and Snipes (sorry about that whole prison thing, Simon Phoenix), work exclusively in the genre, but the quality is hit and miss. To find the gems, you have to wade through the crap.

Alas, music videos are the new training ground. Quick cuts, slow-motion, and wires have replaced action sequences, blocking, and stunt work. We are destined to inhabit a future of CG heavy, holiday-weekend release, block-buster fodder, while true action toils below the surface. I’m glad Charles Bronson didn’t have to live to see this.

At least we still have Asia for action and horror (though anything decent will invariably be remade and dumbed down for our bland Western palate). And as long as Tony Jaa keeps kicking out the jams, there may still be hope.

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