I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Cohen & Tate

tn_cohenandtateCohen & Tate. Sounds like a buddy movie, huh? Cohen. Tate. Just a couple guys goin around together, their last names eventually linked together with and to form a team. Ol’ C & T. Co and Ta. Some mismatched dudes maybe, sounds like one’s Jewish, maybe the other guy’s real Catholic and they always bicker about it. Ha ha, what a great time for everybody.

Well, no. Cohen and Tate are the two mob hitmen who massacre a couple and all the cops protecting them and kidnap their 9 year-old-son so they can bring him to their bosses to be questioned about a shooting he witnessed. Then somebody’ll probaly kill him and throw him in a lake somewhere. It’s not that funny of a movie, is what I’m getting at. Cohen and Tate hate each other, they hate the kid, the kid hates them, they’re all pretty much plotting how and when to kill each other for the whole movie. No jokes except when Tate tells that old one about “what’s the last thing that goes through a bug’s brain when he hits your windshield?” So there are no laughs.

mp_cohenandtateThe  movie’s from 1988 and the writer/director is Eric Red, that guy that wrote THE HITCHER and NEAR DARK and then in 2000 ran over some people and slit his own throat and survived. Once again we got a movie that seems creepy coming from the same mind that later did that. Tate is a psychopath who talks lustfully about running over different types of animals, and there’s a “well, I fucked up, time to commit suicide in front of everybody” moment too. But remember, most people who write dark, nihilistic stories don’t end up doing anything fucked up like that. Just this one.

Unrelated to Red’s mental state are his abilities as a director, which judging by this movie are pretty poor. It’s a pretty good, grim story, it’s got a great old school melodramatic score by Bill Conti. But the acting performances are pretty bad and make the whole thing feel cheesy. They have to do alot of reacting to things and the way it’s all cut together it comes off feeling really phony and distracting.

Most of the movie just has three characters: professional, trenchcoat and gloves wearing Cohen (Roy Scheider); brash, young, leather jacket wearing maniac Tate (Adam Baldwin); and the brat (Harley Cross). Not surprisingly Scheider does the best, but even he delivers his dialogue bad at first. Adam Baldwin is of course America’s #1 independent, unaffiliated Baldwin brother, but I think he plays his dumb lug character too broad here. He could be the dangerous dumb guy of Elmore Leonard stories if he was a little more real. I blame Red for not knowing how to reel him in. He’s always chewing gum and self consciously spit polishing his shotgun, kind of seems like a subway mugger in an ’80s comedy. You’re not sure why poor Cohen got stuck working with this prick.

There’s one scene though where he chews a mouthful of matches for some reason. That was kind of funny.

I don’t really want to say this, but you know my policy re: telling it like it is. The worst part of the movie is the kid’s acting. It’s not his fault, he’s just a kid. He needs a good director to make him act natural. This character is in a scary situation and he has to be un-kid-like in his response, so that’s hard. But he really overreacts with some ridiculous facial expressions when he’s supposed to be scared. He even bites his fist like Nic Cage watching the snuff movie in 8MM! Don’t tell me the kid came up with fist biting. He’s innocent. Some adult told him to do that and thought it looked good. Great job, grownups, way to be in charge.

The kid has been abducted and he figures out they’ll probaly kill him after they get whatever information they need, so he tries to be resourceful. He plays the two against each other, makes them paranoid, pushes Tate to snap so the more careful Cohen will have to kill him. He eats their map. He almost escapes a couple times.

So he’s a smart, resourceful kid, you’d think that would make him sympathetic. Also, he’s clearly the good guy here, no arguing that. But for some reason I hated the little bastard. He looks like a typical Hollywood child actor of the time, with a little bowl cut and jean jacket, but with a Southern accent. And he’s trying to push their buttons so he’ll suddenly turn bratty and yell “PUSSY!” or “YEAH, SHUT UP MR. TATE!” or sing “Old Macdonald” a hundred times in a row. So I really wasn’t rooting for anybody in this movie. At least he doesn’t have a bunch of kid-talking-like-an-adult dialogue like they usually did at that time, I should be thankful for that.

I think this movie is a miss, but I still liked things about it. I like the simplicity – they’re just trying to deliver this kid to Houston, that’s about it. It uses the contained-location type of setup I thought THE HITCHER was going for at first. And Cohen’s cold professionalism and exasperation with Tate are a little Parker-esque. To Red’s credit there are some clever moments in the script. Sometimes the problems they encounter don’t turn out the way they usually do in movies. For example, they get to a road block and have to try to sneak the kid through. Usually a movie would try to draw out the tension and have it seem like the cops are onto them but then at the last moment they let them through. In this one a cop immediately spots the kid’s foot sticking out from a blanket. So Cohen and Tate just pull out their guns and make their stand right there. And this is pretty early in the movie.

Later, when a gas station attendant reaches for a phone, Cohen fires two shots: one that hits him between the eyes and another that turns off all the power at the station so maybe it’ll look closed and nobody will find the body for a while.

I first heard of this movie years ago when a friend told me it was one of the worst movies ever. I don’t think I’ve heard anybody mention it any time between then and when I reviewed THE HITCHER. But it seemed worth checking out, and I guess it was. Sometimes it gets in a groove, it puts you in that gloomy Eric Red mood, two horrible men who hate each other on the road with a dumb little kid, all of them most likely doomed.

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VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Monday, August 31st, 2009 at 1:16 pm and is filed under Action, Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

22 Responses to “Cohen & Tate”

  1. Reviewed from VHS, excellent

  2. Eric Red’s Home Alone

    Few things can bring a movie down more than a bad child actor.
    -in before Episode I…

    Actually you what Star Wars Episode I is the all time perfect example of a kid dragging a whole movie down with it.

    That said I have not seen this movie thus I am contributing jack shit and will be on my way…

    …DOWN WITH CHILD ACTORS!

    -not really… but filmmakers should really consider stop casting bad ones…

  3. Also..

    What is this V, H or S?

    seems familiar… like a long forgotten dormant memory…

  4. I think that all children in film should be played by female midgets.

  5. I’m somewhat all for that.

    God knows actors with dwarf-ism need work, or at least better work than what they get.

    Playing a child isn’t great but it’s better than putting a fur-suite or being used as fodder for really cheap laughs.

    As a movie viewer it would be better because 99.9% of child actors are horrendous and there are many dwarf actors who can act. Besides cinema is all about suspension of disbelief so the audience can get used it. Or they can just mo-cap kids in movies from now on or something.

  6. I don’t think it’s available in any other medium, and after Vern’s review I don’t think they’ll put a rush on that DVD order. I caught it on cable over ten years ago, and liked it at the time. But maybe that was just finding something by Red that wasn’t Body Parts or Bad Moon or That-Western-Where-Mickey-Rourke-Wears-Kaboki-Eyebrows (Note: not actual title).

    I’m glad you mentioned the road block seen Vern; that was my favorite part. Sorry it was more of a miss, but this way I don’t need to revisit it and realize that it doesn’t hold up like I thought. I guess Red peaked with the Hitcher and Near Dark, and whatever demons spurred him turned around and ate whatever tether kept him a sane, functioning adult. Creepy note: after the “accident” Red signed into the hospital under the name Mario Kan, an anagram for “I ran amok.”

    Yeah, the guy has issues all right.

  7. Oh, just read the whole midgets thing. Yes, absolutely, more work for midgets please!

  8. I think I saw a little piece of this movie on TV once when I was little. I distinctly remember watching TV with my Dad and he was flipping through stations and he landed on one where it was showing a little kid pointing a gun at a dude who was covered in blood. I thought it was one of those wacky criminal movies where a guy kidnaps a family or just a kid and then over the course of the movie you see them all warm up to each other and form a surrogate family with a deep emotional bond and then either the crook does something heroic that convinces the cops not to arrest him, or he does get arrested but the bond remains and they visit him and jail and joke around and everything is happy and wonderful. I guess it wasn’t one of those movies.

  9. Bad Seed, that Western was called ‘The Last Outlaw’, a shitty Peckinpah knock-off that I still kind of liked. Geoff Murphy (of ‘Under Siege 2’ fame) did well with the visuals and the numerous gunfights, but the script is terrible and so is Mickey Rourke (I love the guy, but he looks like a tranny here, lets his poor Southern accent do all the acting, and has a booger in his nose the entire film). It is noteable for being one of the most gleefully violent Westerns ever made. The Steve Buscemi exploding head and the guy getting his limbs blown in half with the Sharps were both amazing scenes. Vern should review this one (he hasn’t reviewed many Westerns, which I think slightly tarnishes his claim of ‘striving for excellence’). It should be cheap enough. I got my copy for 3 bucks at Big Lots.

  10. Last Outlaw, huh? I never heard of that one, but your description sold me on it.

  11. Hey Vern,

    I’ve been a longtime reader of your site, and it’s real great stuff. Definitely some of the most grounded-in-reality movie reviews I can find, so good work.

    This review reminded me a little of the Dortmunder book*, JIMMY THE KID, where Dortmunder’s accomplice, Kelp, is in jail at the beginning and finds a (fictional) Parker novel called CHILD HEIST, where Parker and Co. kidnap a rich guy’s kid and get a whole mess of ransom money. So Kelp convinces Dortmunder that they should use the Parker novel as an instruction manual, and they’re sure to make out. They have the kid for most of the book, so there’s lots of criminals-driving-around-with-a-kid in it, but I guess that’s where the similarity between that book and this movie begins and ends. The book is actually real funny. There’s two movie adaptations of it, one with Gary Coleman (which, through an impossible stroke of luck, I found for 50 cents on VHS at a Hollywood Video,) which I haven’t got to watch yet, and one that’s a German TV movie, which probably isn’t available anywhere except on reruns in Berlin.

    I guess the upshot of all this is, real good book, and if you’re a Parker completist you might want to read it for the CHILD HEIST chapters tucked in between the JIMMY THE KID ones.

    Have a nice night.

    Michael

    * I am the fella that wrote in January to persuade you to read all the Dortmunder books, but I swear I do think about other things sometimes.

  12. Cheers David, the name slipped my mind. I saw it a few years ago, and liked parts of it. I won’t give too much away, but I did get a kick out of the use of the word “inventory.” It’s not everyday that internal store lingo pays off at the climax of a western stand-off.

    Incidentally, the script made reference to the character’s fierce, kabuki like features. When Rourke read that he apparently went hog wild, and showed up on set resembling a drug-addled drag queen at a Cyndi Lauper concert. The crew had to work around the damage, leading to his . . . unique appearance.

    And yes, the Buscemi head explosion was awesome.

  13. Vern, you do know Adam Baldwin is not a Baldwin Brother, right? Is that what you meant by “independent, unaffiliated”? Because, if so I am humbled by your brilliance. (as usual)

  14. Michael Henry Grant,

    are you really a long time reader of vern’s sight?

  15. Hey Virgin Gary – I really am, why? Did I miss an article about Jimmy the Kid somewhere along the way? Or is it just that I said ‘site’? I’m confused.

  16. To some, Adam Baldwin is an off-brand Baldwin brother, but to those in the know, he provides better value than the national brand.

    When watching Cohen & Tate on VHS (which I believe stands for Video! Holy Shit!), I couldn’t help wondering if the sort of lackluster directionism would be improved if we got to see the full compositions in widescreen. The first shots at the farmhouse in particular are screaming for huge panoramas. In the car scenes, everything seems cramped and flat, but if there were a little more room around the edges to let the darkness frame the characters it might seem more stylized and desolate. It wouldn’t do much for the acting problems Vern mentioned (which didn’t bother me so much–I liked seeing Adam Baldwin spazz out, although, yeah, I guess it was rough going with Scheider at first) but a nicely composed shot can make a shaky scene a lot more dramatic.

    Pan-and-scanning is a lot like Agent Orange or something. Its effects can still be witnessed decades down the line.

  17. I saw this one a long time ago and quite liked it. But I can’t remember enough to put forward any informed comments about the writing, directing or acting (although Schneider and Baldwin are usually solid at worst (which Schneider that means Jaws 2)

  18. Did anyone else notice that in that Turkish/Arabic/I-can’t-distinguish-the-language-because-I’m-an-ignorant-American poster, they shortened Cohen to Co? Because it sounded Jewish, perhaps?

  19. The poster is Egyptian. I didn’t think about that, but you might be right. I’m glad everybody seems to be less nitpicky about the movie than me. It definitely has a certain something. It’s also sort of cool how it throws you off by setting up all this stuff (SPOILER) about the dad being alive and questions about what the mob guys they’re bringing the kid to are gonna do, and none of it matters at all because they don’t live long enough.

  20. Last Outlaw was pretty good fun as I remember – I haven’t seen it since my school days though, so I may have the old year-goggles on… I seem to remember paying money for Extreme records and wearing a ponytail too, so tread carefully.

  21. Michael-

    yeah i was just joking about ‘site.’ sorry, lame joke. but you seem aware of it, so your credentials have been approved.

  22. Gary – No problem. Glad to know my ‘Vern Cred’ checks out. ;)

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