1989’s Tango & Cash, which starred Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell, and the Fast & Furious franchise stand out as symphonic bro-downs that feed a need to see things explode and see villains get punched. They also offer up a heaping helping of beef, endearingly lame one-liners, sleeveless shirt styles, audacious and possibly needlessly complex heists/schemes, harrowing escapes, gear, and, most importantly, friendship. These films are pretty rad, is what I’m saying. So, when I saw that the universe was going to give us a Hobbs & Shaw spin-off from the Fast & Furious franchise, well, folks, I was shook.
In Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), I saw the promise of Ray Tango (Sylvester Stalone) and Gabriel Cash (Kurt Russell) part deux; a pair with a track record (in previous Fast & Furious films and elsewhere) that could give us the kind of begrudging buddy bash-em-up that we were all denied by whatever forces kept Tango & Cash 2 from happening (presumably, the forces that pay attention to a film’s critical response or are wary of revisiting something that busted its budget and had to be triaged together in post-production). The possibilities were endless and satisfaction was guaranteed. Or so I thought.
It’s at this point that I need to offer a warning and a confession. First, if you have not seen both Tango & Cash (how dare you?) and Hobbs & Shaw, then this article is not for you because it’s going to be fat with spoilers (also, Avengers: Endgame and the 1993 film Sliver, because I paint with a wide palette). Second, it turns out that all my excitement was for naught as I did not like Hobbs & Shaw. No, not even a little. This also has me shook. Because the formula is there. The punching is there. The want to is certainly there. But my love for it? Not there. It’s loud, it’s long, and it bored me with its monotony, even during the spectacular seeming action scenes. What the hell is wrong with me? Maybe something. Maybe nothing.
To more deeply explore this betrayal perpetrated against myself by myself, I decided to rewatch Tango & Cash and compare the (plentiful) moments that it shares with Hobbs & Shaw to see where and how the new film falls short.
I imagine confusion ran wild in multiplexes across the land in 1989 when Sylvester Stallone called Rambo (one of his most iconic characters) a “pussy” in the opening minutes of Tango & Cash. But was it a small price to pay to position Ray Tango as the new breed of movie badass and maybe Stallone’s franchise future? Following the mixed results of Rambo III (which was released in 1988), it’s possible Stallone didn’t even view the character as anything more than a part of his past (saw a trailer for the latest Rambo in front of Hobbs & Shaw!) and something he could have a little fun with. And with Rocky V on the way and seeming like that character’s send-off (not so much), it’s possible Stallone was all about the future at that critical point in his career. It’s undeniable that Ray Tango is a new look for Stallone — a bit more smooth and cerebral, while still an outright beast on the battlefield. It’s also undeniable that he definitely played with his brand a bit in the early ’90s, getting into sci-fi with Demolition Man and Judge Dredd, tinkering with comedy in Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot and Oscar. Am I building too much onto one throwaway line? Perhaps, but it scans. It… scans.
In Hobbs & Shaw, the meta moment is far less inflammatory as Statham vaguely teases the idea of the Mini Cooper in his garage being used for a job he did in Italy — a wink and a nod to the movie, The Italian Job, which he co-starred in (and which Fate Of The Furious director F. Gary Gray also helmed). Which, alright. It’s a laugh inducer, but is it as impactful as Rambo dissing Rambo? No, it is not. Go big or go home, Hobbs & Shaw.
In Hobbs & Shaw, Vanessa Kirby is fantastic as Hattie Shaw, Deckard Shaw’s sister and a badass world saver who is down to throw hands and trade quips while always keeping her eye on the mission — which so happens to be getting a humanity crushing virus out of her hand and away from Idris Elba’s Brixton, the film’s big bad. This while Statham and Johnson’s characters bicker (sometimes about the possibility of Johnson and Kirby’s character hooking up). But can she play drums?
As Ray Tango’s dancer sister, Kiki Tango, Teri Hatcher didn’t get a lot to do, serving mostly as eye candy (her lengthy and barely clothed dance scene is punctuated by her aforementioned drum skills), a prize to be won by Russell’s character (so long as her brother approves), and a damsel in distress. Problematic as hell. But that was 1989. Hobbs & Shaw definitely gives its female lead a lot more to do — Hattie has agency, a little more depth, and she plays a key role in the plot — but we still have to deal with her older (much older) brother’s protective streak and she still spends most of the film’s climactic fight scene off to the side with a gun pointed at her. Two steps forward but maybe also one step back?
This is an easy one. A child of the Fast & Furious franchise automatically wins out when the topic is cars. If you cut out the parade of brawny pick-ups and Deckard Shaw’s previously mentioned garage full of goodies, you’d still have that sweet car chase with Hobbs and the Shaws piled into a McLaren 720S while up against a motorbike riding Brixton. Game over.
I still want to give some love to Ray Tango’s very on-brand Cadilac convertible, Gabriel Cash’s Corvette, the souped-up Chevy Truck/”RV From Hell,” and the murder-y monster truck rally that goes down when Tango and Cash storm the compound of Yves Perret (Jack Palance), that film’s big bad. People get distracted by epic high-fives and testosterone, but while Tango & Cash didn’t deliver the fast, they certainly handled the furious when it came to packing in a buttload of cool and beastly vehicles into their action epic. The point goes to Hobbs & Shaw, though I feel like I could talk myself out of it if I stare long enough at the RV From Hell.
Memorable Bad Guy Quip
“Ray Tango, how he loves to dance…” is a weird, eye-roll-inducing line that finds a kind of lyrical loveliness when said in Jack Palance’s trademarked breathless way. Elba’s “I’m Black Superman” is a lot more direct and perfectly sums up his character’s seeming invulnerability in an ultra snackable way. It’s a more important line, but I’m going style over substance, here. Gotta go with Jack.
Here, a win for Hobbs & Shaw. Geoffrey Lewis’s captain character is helpful and believes in Tango and Cash when no one else does, but his big trusting eyes and ’80s dad stache can’t touch the hot star power of… Rob Delaney. God damn, Rob Delaney making cameos in big-budget action movies like this and Deadpool 2 is my kink. Let’s go Kickfund Me a bunch of money and CG add him into Avatar and Batman Forever. Also, Ryan Reynolds. He’s pretty good in this playing a Hobbs fanboy and reinforcing the idea that we should all be Hobbs fanboys. Points to Hobbs & Shaw, but mostly to Rob Delaney, who looks so great in a suit that he could be a big and tall model.
The Electrocution Scene
Hobbs and Shaw were sat in chairs as they were zapped to within an inch of their lives. Tango and Cash were hungover drums filled with water and electrified. Which sounds less comfortable? Points to Tango & Cash.
I dig on The Rock’s Euro tourister look and his Newsies cabbie hat. Points to Hobbs & Shaw almost purely for giving me style goals and also for being less problematic than Tango & Cash tarting up Kurt Russell and putting him in drag for easy laughs.
Breaking Out/Breaking In
Hobbs and Shaw already had their epic prison escape in Fate Of The Furious. It even includes Kurt Russell (playing Mr. Nobody, who is, according to the fanfic I’m writing in my mind, either Gabriel Cash’s more uptight twin or Gabe himself with a spy name). It does not TOUCH the prison escape in Tango & Cash. The one that ends with a zip line following one character being caught in a large fan and also a showdown with a prison tough and another electrocution. Untoppable. If you put that up against the break into the Eteon facility in Hobbs & Shaw… yeah, still untoppable. I’ll give praise to the fun contrast between The Rock and Statham as they work their way through Brixton’s crew, but I’m giving points to Tango & Cash for the best break out/break-in (in history).
High Tech Lab
I love the guy who runs the weird little lab that Tango and Cash visit to gear up for the film’s final showdown! Owen (Michael J. Pollard)! I love how trusting he is and also that he has a stuffed dog gun that is very clearly not working for him. But the Eteon lab is far more imposing. I bet their stuffed dog gun would work.
Palance won out for the best quip so why wouldn’t he win out for best villain? The fact is Elba’s character isn’t very interesting. He’s vengeful and unbeatable. Alright. He looks cool as hell when throwing down or when in pursuit. Awesome. But will you remember anything about him in a few months besides Elba doing his best with a flat villain role? Palance’s Yves Perret is a class A weirdo. Dude spent money on that rat maze just to make a dramatic point to his co-conspirators. I am convinced of that. And he spends so much time watching Tango and Cash on video that this feels like a Sliver prequel. Seriously, Brixton sliding under that truck was amazing, but is it as amazing as the numerous cuts of Jack Palance just sitting in a dark room watching the looming end of his plan/empire and reacting like your dad watching RedZone on a Sunday afternoon when the Totinos are cold and none of his bets are paying off? Nuh-uh.
The chemistry between the main characters in this kind of film is really the determining factor when evaluating its goodness, and, I think, that’s part of why I felt so cold to Hobbs & Shaw. Wall Street Journal revelations aside, you can feel a kind of “you do your thing and I’ll do my thing” sort of, well, thing, when watching this movie. I don’t buy any sort of feeling — one way or the other, really — between The Rock and Statham. They’re brands in close orbit around an idea and a larger brand. That idea is supported by a lot of money and a lot of talented people who make a lot of big things happen that are in line with the brand but maybe not for the experience of seeing this movie. Because we’ve all seen the spectacle before. Maybe not exactly like that, but close enough that it feels a little cold and less captivating. Even at the end of the Samoa-based battle, which seems like it was added to give this film a shot of emotion and some stakes.
When I re-watch Tango & Cash — flawed as it may be with its 1989ness, flat quips, and abundant cheese — I sense a beating heart. Stallone and Russell play off each other so well (and appear to actually be friends) and their character’s sense of annoyance more organically dissolves as they come together for what is the most thunderous high five in cinematic human history. It just feels right. It’s also not buried under a mountain of pyrotechnics and metal, which may be a big part of why it feels so right or, at least, why its heart is palpable.
Big budget spectacle can be enjoyable, of course. But maybe I’m just hitting that point where “dumb fun” action movies, which remain a legit joy for many, turn me sour as they jump the shark. I think my reaction to Hobbs & Shaw proves that I’m there. The affection for Tango & Cash and the gulf between these two very like things only makes that more clear. Apparently, I need art to make me feel. Which is a bummer considering the studio landscape often seems consumed by a need to go bigger and bigger.
But let’s not end on a cynical note. That’s not what Tango and Cash would want. Let’s, instead, remember that spectacle and story can combine. Maybe not with Hobbs & Shaw, but look at what the Russo Bros. did with Avengers: Endgame and think of the tears you shed (don’t deny it!) for Iron Man and the first pump when the Avengers emerged victorious. All this leads me to the true point of all of this: we need to get the Russo Bros to get Stallone and Kurt Russell on the phone and direct Tango & Cash 2. That’s it. This has all been a ruse to make the case for that. High five?