Andrei Konchalovsky directed the 1985 Cannon Film Runaway Train, which was based on a script by Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, as well as a plethora of films that seem more like passion projects than cash grabs. In fact, his last two films, The Postman’s White Nights and Paradise have both won Silver Lions at Cannes.
So how does an artist like Konchalovsky come to direct a buddy cop film with Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell?
Well, let me tell you, the entire production of this film was a gigantic mess and is probably way more interesting than what was filmed.
Let’s start with the original cast. Patrick Swayze was the original Cash instead of Kurt Russell, but he dropped out to do Road House instead, which was probably the right move. After all, shooting had already started without a script and Stallone had director of photography Barry Sonnenfeld (The Addams Family, Men In Black and, yes, Wild Wild West) fired.
After three months of filming, Konchalovsky was fired by producer Jon Peters (the former hairdresser and boyfriend of Barbara Streisand) after they fought continually over the direction of the film. Konchalovsky was initially hired to make a buddy cop movie with plenty of humor, but Peters wanted more than that — he wanted a movie that had no seriousness at all. Konchalovsky refused. Essentially, the two men were making two different movies.
Brion James, who plays Requin in the film, said that by the half-way point of the seemingly unending shoot that the director and producer were no longer speaking. The reason for Konchalovsky’s ousting was supposedly the budget. He was given impossible demands and was the scapegoat when things went off the rails.
Meanwhile, Konchalovsky has nothing but praise for Stallone in his 1991 book Elevating Deception. He claims that Sly was the one person who held the project together and was a constant voice of reason on an increasingly chaotic set.
By the end of shooting, Stallone was unofficially the producer, director, writer and star of the film.
Konchalovsky was replaced by executive producer Peter MacDonald, who was also one of the film’s second unit directors. He’d stepped in and done the same duties on Sly’s Rambo III. Albert Magnoli (Purple Rain) then directed the chase scenes and the fights at the end of the film.
There was also a legal battle between Peters and his partner Peter Guber against Warner Brothers, as well as self-censorship that led to jump cuts every time someone gets shot in the film. The prints of the film were completed days before it played theaters. This all led to a great quote by one of the crew members: “This was the worst-organized, most poorly prepared film I’ve ever been on in my life. From the first day we started, no one knew what the hell anyone was doing.”
Beverly Hills LAPD Lieutenant Raymond Tango (Stallone) drives a Cadillac, wears Armandi and starts the film by using a small revolver to take out a semi filled with cocaine. Yes, this stunt is 100% stolen from Jackie Chan’s Police Story, but Jackie would repay the favor by doing an even more out of control version of the zip line stunt from this movie in Police Story 3.
Downtown Los Angeles Lieutenant Gabriel Cash (Russell) drives a Corvette, dresses like a cowboy and has a shotgun in his boots. He beats the hell out of suspects with no respect to the rules.
Surely, these guys are either going to love or hate one another. Or get married. Maybe all three.
There’s one guy who really hates them: Yves Perret (Jack Palance, seemingly choking on every single word he spits out in an amazing performance) is the crime lord of Los Angeles who decides that killing them is too easy. They need to be discredited and humiliated and tortured and then killed. So he uses his vast resources to set them up and send them to jail where they’re trapped with the criminals they themselves had put away.
This is a movie packed with action, sure, but it’s also a movie packed with actors who have amazing stories and work, the kind of small part people that I adore. Sure, Teri Hatcher is in an early role as Tango’s sister Kiki. But in addition to the aforementioned Brion James, we also have:
- Geoffrey Lewis, the frequent Clint Eastwood collaborator who also appeared in Salem’s Lot, plays Captain Schroeder, Tango’s superior in the LAPD.
- Edward Bunker, whose career of bank robbery, drug dealing, extortion, armed robbery and forgery made him a felon until 1975 before he became a screenwriter and actor, plays Captain Holmes, Cash’s superior in the LAPD. He wrote Konchalovsky’ss Runaway Train and was Mr. Blue in Reservoir Dogs.
- James Hong, who will always be the villain of Big Trouble In Little China, Lo Pan, is Quan, the leader of the Triads.
- Michael J. Pollard, who is in Fulci’s The Four of the Apocalypse, Bonnie and Clyde and so many others films, appears as Owen, Cash’s weapons creating friend. Why a regular cop needs a special weapons expert is just another reason to love this film.
- Robert Z’Dar, a man whose face was the best special effect in several films, plays the aptly titled Face, a psychotic convict who has a grudge against Tango. You may know Z’Dar better as the titular character in Maniac Cop.
- Lewis Arquette, the father of the entire family that pretty much ruled movies through the 1990’s and 2000’s, plays FBI Agent Howard Wyler.
- Roy Brocksmith, who you’d probably remember as Dr. Edgemar from Total Recall, plays FBI Agent Gerard Davis.
- Clint Howard, who you know that I love from Evilspeak and The Wraith, plays Slinky, the crazed cellmate of Tango.
- Finally, we have martial arts legend Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, Tai Bo teacher Billy Blanks and Breakin’ star Adolfo “Shabba-Doo” Quinones.
This is a movie where the two main characters being sent to jail is merely the set up for them to get an armed to the teeth assault vehicle and blowing up the bad guy’s headquarters. Yet despite its wildly varying tone, the movie is presented as a serious movie the entire time.
Well, I say that, but it’s also a film where Stallone’s character remarks how much he hates danish, meaning the pastry, but also meaning Danish women, as he was getting divorced from Brigette Neilsen at the time. And any movie that ends with a fake newspaper headline that looks this silly has earned my adoration.