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?