Action, Comedy

Tough Guys (1986)

Comments Off on Tough Guys (1986) 12 June 2017

tough guys

Studio: Kino

Theatrical Release: October 3, 1986

Blu Ray Release: May 30, 2017

Director: Jeff Kanew


Review by James Klein

I still remember seeing Tough Guys back in 1986 when it was a new release on VHS. My 10 year old self thought it was funny to see old people acting young nd out of character. It’s simplistic and sitcom-type humor appealed to me as a kid. It also had a tad bit of action so that too entertained me. Watching it now 31 years later…ugh. Tough Guys is a safe film, a movie made for kids and the elderly where the humor is basic, unoffensive, and at times over the top. It’s silly phoniness of these two tough old men trying to live in the “crazy 80’s” is the type of film that fans of sitcoms would love. 

Burt Lancaster (The Swimmer) and Kirk Douglas (The Vikings) star as Harry and Archie, two cons who are finally getting released after a 30 year sentence for robbing a train. They are also the last men who ever robbed a train in the United States, something that they are somewhat proud of. Having been released, they meet their parole officer Richie Evans (Dana Carvey, who hadn’t even started SNL when the film was in production) who advises that the two men must not stay in contact with one another for three years. Harry, the older of the two, must report to a retirement home where he falls back in love with an old flame (Alexis Smith from The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane) while also butting heads with the retirement staff on how the residents are treated. Archie on the other hand goes from job to job, trying to fit in while finding love with a spunky younger woman. 

As the two men can’t seem to fit back into society, they come to the conclusion that their life of crime is the only life to live. When their armored car heist goes wrong, they decide the train that they originally robbed back in 1956 which also happens to be retiring as well is their ticket back to crime. If they can rob the train, take it to Mexico, they can be not only free from rules but also prove to themselves that they still have it in them. 

While the plot is completely preposterous, what’s even more ridiculous is watching these old men stop a bank robbery, beat up a tough gang (who listen to Janet Jackson on a boom box, oh so threatening) and stop an elderly hitman (Eli Wallach from The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly) from killing them. Maybe the movie wasn’t meant to be taken seriously and director Jeff Kanew was just going for a fun, comic booky action-comedy. But the jokes are lame and fall flat. Sequences end with either a bird shitting on a cop, or a boy getting ice cream thrown in his face or Archie learning how to properly dress. These are the punchlines to several set ups that go nowhere. You can almost hear the “wa wa” noise after each “joke”. If the film went for a more darker, R rated tone focusing on these old men proving to themselves that they are not completely washed up, maybe the film could have been possibly better by adding some depth to these characters. Even better, how about making the jokes less juvenile and centering more on these characters struggles living their lives in a modern world. But I guess that’s not what the two writers wanted (written by James Orr and Jim Cruickshank, the men who gave you Mr. Destiny and Three Men & a Baby) and instead gave audiences a lame, humorless comedy that is just ridiculous and groan inducing. 

The saving grace to the film is watching these two legends on screen. Regardless of the material, Lancaster and Douglas are great to watch and while the comedy is pathetic, they try their best and actually have a decent amount of comic timing between the two. 

Kino’s transfer however looks wonderful. Presented in the original 2:35:1 ratio, Tough Guys looks great aside from some noticeable print damage and lines in the open credits. The film is very bright with several daylight sequences so this transfer looks crystal clear, probably the best it has ever looked. The 2.0 DTS sound mix actually sounded pretty good, even during the train sequences where I thought some of the dialog would be lost or sound effects being lost. This isn’t the case here and the picture and sound are stellar. 

The only special feature is the audio commentary by Jeff Kanew who gives some pretty interesting and insightful stories about the making of the film and the rivalry between Lancaster and Douglas. Kanew has found memories of making the film (despite studio interference) and his enthusiasm is nice to hear but alas this doesn’t hold a candle to his other films like Gotcha and one of my all-time favorites, Revenge of the Nerds. Shockingly, aside from some trailers for other Kino titles, the trailer for Tough Guys is not included for some reason. 

I can see my parents laughing their asses off at Tough Guys. They also like Everybody Loves Raymond too. 

Movie Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 

Blu Ray Rating: ★★★½☆ 

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