“Tales From The $5 Bin” is a new column here at Comedy Examiner HQ, and it’s probably exactly what you think it is: we go to Wal-Mart, pick out one of their $5 DVD’s, and watch it, and review it– for your entertainment and for our own. And what better questionable-classic to start this series with than 1989’s Tango and Cash? Upon revisiting the film, we were stunned to find out that Tango and Cash isn’t just an 80’s action movie: it’s also one of the gayest movies of the “Me Decade”. Read on, my gentle Examiner readers…
Recently, while combing through the movie archives here at Comedy Examiner HQ, we were having a crisis: There was simply nothing to watch. Despite the fact that we have over 500 Blu-rays, DVD’s, and TV shows squirreled away, we can only watch ’em all so many times. What to do when there’s nothing on TV, you’ve exhausted your film collection, and that review copy of Bulletstorm still hasn’t shown up? Why, you take an ill-advised trip to Wal-Mart’s $5 bin, of course!
You know the $5 bin. It sits there on the outskirts of the “home entertainment” section in every Wal-Mart across the country, lonely and abandoned. Its steel walls are filled nearly to bursting with titles that no sane man would ever subject himself to (example: our copy of Mac and Me, which was plucked from a $5 bin a few years ago), and the low, low costs make almost every film contained therein seem like a steal. I mean, sure, Species 2 sucks…but does it suck more than wasting $5? I submit to you that it does not.
This is the magic of the $5 bin: you look at the films wasting away inside of it, feel nauseous just reading the titles, and yet you talk yourself into picking through them every time you find yourself inside a Wal-Mart. Besides the fact that $5 is a hard price to argue with, there’s always the sneaking suspicion that maybe– just maybe— this time you’ll find a movie in there that’s really good, one you can hold aloft to your friends and say, “Guess what I got for $5? Yes, a Blu-ray of Casablanca signed by Humphrey Bogart! Never would’ve got it if I hadn’t looked through that $5 bin!”
Deep down, you know you’ll never find a movie in that bin that’s worth a damn, but you go on suspecting you might, anyway.
And so, with nothing to watch, little else to do, and a big, fat $5 bill burning a hole in my pocket, I adjourned to the $5 bin at Wal-Mart, where I happened across a miracle: a DVD two-pack, one which included both Cobra and Tango and Cash. I don’t need to tell you that my mind was already justifying this purchase, patiently explaining to my senses of reason and decency that “Hell, that’s like two movies for $2.50; can’t beat that” (This is another trick of the $5 bin at Wal-Mart, and it works almost every time). Within minutes, I was staring down the register-person and handing over my $5.
I’ll never see that $5 again, but the memories of the reunion I had yesterday with Tango and Cash— a film I hadn’t seen in well over a decade– will last a lifetime. Chances are, you’ll recall that Tango and Cash didn’t win the Oscar for “Best Picture” the year it was released. Chances are, you’ll recall that Tango and Cash is an action movie starring Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell. Chances are, you don’t recall Tango and Cash being so overtly homoerotic.
Oh, yeah: Tango and Cash is straight-up gay. It might even be more homoerotic than Top Gun, a film that’s been singled out over the years for being exquisitely gay by film geeks, action film nerds, and Quentin Tarantino in that one indie movie starring Eric Stoltz you never bothered watching. And to think: I never would have come to this realization had I not visited my local $5 bin at Wal-Mart. Oh, $5 bin at Wal-Mart, is there anything you can’t do?
Well, it can’t make Tango and Cash a good movie. While the film is exceptionally gay, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that’ll tell you it’s good. After doing a little digging, I learned that Tango and Cash was a troubled production, one where Stallone fired the original director of photography (Barry Sonnenfeld) because he didn’t feel like he was being lit well, where they started shooting without a completed script, and where multiple editors took a run at the movie before finding a cut that everyone at Warner Bros. wasn’t horrified by. After all that, the film was way-overbudget, and when it was released, critics weren’t kind.
“Yes, yes,” you’re saying, “But what about the gayness? That’s what we wanna know about,” and that’s fair. We teased it in the headline and have been rambling on for multiple paragraphs about it, so let’s offer up a few examples. To do that, we need to establish the basic plot: Sylvester Stallone is Ray Tango, a Beverly Hills cop (ahem) who doesn’t always play by the rules…but always gets results. Meanwhile, downtown, Kurt Russell is playing Cash, a downtown-cop (read: not as well-dressed as Stallone) who almost never plays by the rules…but always gets results. These two aren’t pals, and the movie seems to think that it’s doing something incredibly clever by not making them partners: “It’s a buddy-cop movie where the buddy cops don’t start out as working buddies! Can you imagine?!”
Well, the film wastes no time making with the homoeroticism. One could make the argument that Stallone’s Tango is obviously gay from the get-go, what with his metrosexual suits, crisp collars, and snazzy little ties. The film wants us to believe that all the elaborate three-piece suits and spectacles that Tango wears are there to inform us that he’s a “high-class” cop (it’s even mentioned that he works as a cop as a side-job, just for “the action”), to be compared against Cash’s down-and-dirty style. But that’s not what I think. I think it’s there to let us know that Tango’s a fussy, clothing-obsessed homosexual. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
After an opening ripped off directly from Jackie Chan’s Police Story, Tango ends up back at headquarters to argue with his boss about his tactics. This is a classic, oft-repeated scene in the “police-based action film”, and it’s no more interesting here than it was in, say, Last Action Hero, Cobra, Kindergarten Cop, and so on…except for the underlying homoeroticism! That’s actually a running theme for Tango and Cash: sure, you’re seeing conventions and stereotypes trotted out through a by-the-numbers script, but they’ve all been “snazzed up a bit” with some good, ol-fashioned homoeroticism. It’s old made new by gay, basically.
This scene is followed by Kurt Russell interrogating a subject in– where else?– a bathroom. Yes, and with the perp’s junk out. Isn’t that how all suspects are interrogated? Usually, this kinda scene takes place in an interrogation room, but in Tango and Cash, Kurt Russell’s Cash makes his advances on handcuffed gentlemen while they’re using a urinal. If there was nothing else about Tango and Cash that seemed overtly gay, I’d probably let moments like this go, but considering all the other circumstantial evidence, I think we have to consider this yet another homoerotic moment.
Hot on the heels of Cash’s mid-pee interrogation of a suspect is a cutesy little scene where Stallone talks with his boss. At the end of the scene, the boss says something about marriage, and Tango walks away, raises an eyebrow, and saucily asks, “Is that a proposal?” It was here that I started paying close attention to the homoeroticism of Tango and Cash. Up until that point, it had been a subconscious thing, something I wasn’t even aware I was seeing. But after that comment– and particularly after that cocked eyebrow– I couldn’t help but keep my eyes peeled for further proof. Little did I know that the film was building up to an amazingly gay scene, one that all but makes my case for me.
Shortly thereafter, Tango and Cash meet for the first time. Pay attention to how close they stand to one another (and not just here, but throughout the film), how their “banter” comes across– quite obviously, I might add– as flirting. These don’t sound like two cops begrudgingly working a case together and breaking one another’s balls: this sounds like two single people flirting with another at a bar after way too many drinks. They playfully insult one another, but the insults are catty more than cutting. Have I mentioned that Jon Peters produced this? Because Jon Peters– former hairstylist turn Hollywood uber-producer– produced this. So, yeah.
The film’s villain– played by the late, great Jack Palance– conspires to have Tango and Cash set-up for a crime they didn’t commit, and the first act of the film ends with them on trial for murder. This, of course, leads to a scene where Stallone and Russell stare at one another’s junk in the shower. After that– Oh, wait. We should probably spend some time discussing the “shower scene”. That scene is, in fact, the cornerstone of our entire theory– that Tango and Cash is an action-romance rather than a buddy-comedy.
Stallone and Russell are inexplicably tossed into a shower together– no guards, no other prisoners, no one but Tango, Cash, and a cameraman (Oh, and a bar of soap). One minute they’re in court, the next they’re naked. After trading some catty barbs with one another (and after we’re treated to a lengthy– beyond lengthy, really– shot of Stallone and Russell walking naked, side-by-side, away from the camera), Russell drops to his knees, out of frame. Stallone says, “Hey!”, like he’s not interested. Russell stands, looks Stallone dead in the eye, and says, “Don’t flatter yourself”.
But, wait, there’s more: Russell then looks down at Stallone’s junk and comments on its size, inferring that Stallone is packing a snub-nosed .38 rather than a Desert Eagle. Stallone looks at Russell’s junk and implies that, no, his package is smaller. Just so we’re clear on this point: Cash tells Tango not to “flatter himself”, then insults the size of Tango’s manhood. Does this not imply that Tango’s manhood isn’t big enough for Cash’s liking? Because that’s what it seemed like to me.
This goes back and forth for an unreasonable amount of time, and when the scene ends (as inexplicably as it began), the audience is left confused, much like Tango and Cash themselves.
There are moments throughout the remainder of Tango and Cash that seem homoerotic (For instance: Tango saying– appropos of nothing– “This underwear is riding up my throat! Ugh!”), but none are as homoerotic as the “shower scene” that occurs about thirty-five minutes into the film’s run-time (Although the black inmate telling Cash that he plans on putting “brown sugar in yo ass” comes close). There is, however, a moment where Stallone snaps his fingers in a very sassy manner at another prisoner. It’s hilarious.
Need we go on? Let’s talk about that ending, then we’ll rest our case.
In the end, after everyone’s been defeated, Russell, Hatcher, and Stallone all end up on a hillside, watching as the film’s villains burn up (or something). After arguing over who’s the bigger badass (“I took that hit for you!”, Cash tells Tango), Hatcher suggests that they just “accept the fact that (they) work well together!” Tango and Cash look into one another’s eyes, begrudgingly admit that this is true, and then high-five. There’s nothing inherently gay about a high-five, of course, but this high-five is the gayest high-five ever fived.
Throughout the film, Stallone’s Tango and Russell’s Cash have escaped prison, shot bad guys, and– eventually, after many poorly-staged action sequences– they’ve toppled the criminal empire of Jack Palance. Through it all, they’re constantly riding one another (take it easy) about this, that, or the other thing, but it’s the filmmaker’s inclusion of the “shower scene” that settles the “Are they or aren’t they?” debate once and for all.
After that, all the “banter” read as “flirting”, and every scene where Tango and Cash protect one another feels…well, not like the average buddy-comedy. It feels much closer to what I imagine Glenn Beck thinks of when he considers gays in the military. Ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you that Top Gun is not the “gayest” 80’s action film, but that Tango and Cash is. There is more going on here than most 80’s audiences probably realized, but then again, everyone was coked to the gills in the 80’s.
And if you’re interested, you can rediscover all the magic for yourselves right now…with a trip to Wal-Mart’s $5 bin.
Stay tuned for future installments of “From The $5 Bin”, my precious snowflakes.
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