Tango & Cash (1989): Sylvester Stallone Revisited

Tango & Cash – a movie title synonymous with perhaps the most popular action genre of the eighties: the buddy-cop movie. In the wake of Lethal Weapon, there were many variations of the formula. Still, perhaps the most testosterone-fuelled was the 1989 cult classic that paired Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell as Los Angeles cops framed by Jack Palance’s evil drug lord. With generous helpings of style and tons of action (plus a young Teri Hatcher), the movie was a box office hit, but behind the scenes, it was a mess, with the producers going through (at least) two directors and two cinematographers.

So what gives? Why was Tango & Cash such a drama behind the scenes? Enter two of Warner Bros’ biggest producers of the era, Jon Peter and Peter Guber. The men responsible for Tim Burton’s Batman, they made big, colourful, commercial movies and probably smelt a sure-fire hit when they signed Stallone to star in this buddy cop movie.

Which makes the choice of directors questionable at best. To helm Tango & Cash, they hired Andrei Konchalovsky, the director of Runaway Train. Konchalovsky, who had left the Soviet Union sometime earlier, was a student of directors like Kurosawa or Tarkovsky. He could direct the hell out of action – one need only look at Runaway Train to see that, but he didn’t exactly have a light touch. Somewhere during the shoot, reportedly near the end, Konchalovsky was fired and replaced by Purple Rain director Albert Magnoli. If you watch Tango & Cash, with its ultra-stylish montages and musical numbers, such as Teri Hatcher’s amazing striptease to Yaz’s “Don’t Go”, it does indeed feel more like a Magnoli film, but who knows who is responsible for the final cut. DP Barry Sonnenfeld was also replaced at some point during the production, being replaced by Stallone’s DP on Lock Up, Donald Thorin, who also shot Magnoli’s Purple Rain. Apparently, it was editor Stuart Baird, who was famous at the time for saving troubled movies, who came in and did the final cut. Things were not helped by the fact that Peters and Guber were caught up in a lawsuit with the distributor, Warner Bros, before it hit theaters and that they were slamming the studio in the press before it came out for rushing its release.

Given how troubled it was, you’d think Tango & Cash would be a disaster. It wasn’t. Despite everything, the film was a decent-sized hit at Christmas of 1989. What makes the movie work so well is that despite everything that happened offscreen, the movie is a blast

In this episode of Sylvester Stallone Revisited, we look at the movie’s making and ask ourselves whether or not it holds up so many years later. This episode is written and narrated by Chris Bumbray, produced by Adam Walton and edited by Bill Mazzola.

About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.