Blu-Ray Review: Cohen & Tate

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MSRP $19.97
STUDIO Shout! Factory
• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Eric Red
• Interviews
• Deleted Scenes

The Pitch

Home Alone: Road Trip Edition

The Humans

Eric Red (Director/Writer), Harley Cross, Roy Scheider, Adam Baldwin

The Nutshell

Cohen and Tate are two mafia hit men who don’t exactly hit it off. Cohen is an old pro, a cold-blooded killer who is all business. Tate is a young hothead who kills for fun. Together they kidnap nine-year-old Travis Knight, an eyewitness to a recent mob rub-out. Now, they’ve got 24 hours to deliver him to Houston for interrogation and elimination. Realizing their mutual hatred is his only hope, Travis plays this lethal odd couple against one another. But when their volatile words explode into a fiery gun battle, he’s caught in the crossfire.

The Lowdown

Is there any genre more nebulous than the thriller? It’s long been my sincere belief that the genre doesn’t actually exist and all “thrillers” are either action movies with a lot of talking, horror movies with a lot of talking, or mysteries. I guess it was a way for lazy people to classify stories that don’t neatly fit into any one genre but it’s become shorthand for “we have created and action/horror story but we don’t want you to think it’s dumb, so we’re calling it something else.” It’s a buzzword for the kind of person who insists they read “graphic novels, not comic books.”

I have to applaud whatever ad executive was in charge of marketing Cohen & Tate for not taking the coward’s way out and picking a genre, unfortunately this person classified it under the wrong genre. Everything about Cohen & Tate‘s cover art portrays it as a buddy-cop style action movie about two mismatched hitmen (one by the book, the other a loose cannon) united by diversity against a greater enemy. The box lays out the plot as it really is but I imagine most people didn’t figure out until the first fifteen minutes of the movie when our titular duo murders the shit out of a nine-year-old boy’s parents that Cohen and Tate are the bad guys.

Cohen & Tate is a horror movie. After Travis Knight (Harley Cross), our actual protagonist, is taken out of federal custody by our duo, he finds that Mr. Cohen (Roy Scheider of Jaws) and Mr. Tate (Adam Baldwin of Firefly and Chuck) want to take him to see their boss. Travis will be interrogated and then, more than likely, killed.

Cohen is a seasoned hit man with a head of mostly grey hair and a hearing aid. He’s past his prime but he knows that the only retirement strategy for someone in his position is a bullet to the head, so he has taken a job he doesn’t like with a partner he actually hates to put off this inevitable end.

Mr. Tate is a loud and crazy asshole who enjoys inflicting suffering and pain on anyone and everything he comes across. Tate hates Travis, and wants to buddy to up to Mr. Cohen, who he sees as a kindred spirit to himself. Cohen sees him as an annoying dick that’s going to get them killed or caught.

Travis sees a dynamic between the two men he can exploit to save his life and goes for it; he’s not very crafty or subtle (he is nine, after all) but, since Cohen’s a grumpy old bastard and Tate’s a psychotic man-child, he doesn’t really have to be. Complicating things for the hitmen are the cops (the ones we don’t see on screen anyway) who are quite good at their job and onto Cohen and Tate’s trail from the beginning, further pitting the two clashing personalities against one another and making them panicky.

It’s safe to say that Tate enjoyed The Terminator.

Travis Knight, much like Billy from Death Valley, is a rare instance of a child character who behaves like a child; his plans are harebrained and it never just occurs to him to find a really good hiding spot and stay there until this all blows over, but it doesn’t feel like he’s being written stupidly because he’s behaving like a child who is old enough to understand the gravity of his situation but too young make good decisions in aiding his escape. With the exception of Travis’ “Texan” accent, Harley Cross does a flawless job of bringing the character to life.

Adam Baldwin as Mr. Tate is chewing scenery even by ‘80s standards; the best description of the performance I can give is he’s The Kurgan as played by Jake Busey. Between the freakouts, the screaming, the awful jokes, and the near-orgasmic excitement ever time he hurts something’s it’s so over-the-top to the point it’s embarrassing. My love of Adam Baldwin isn’t so blind that I don’t realize that pretty much all his pre-Firefly stuff is awful (I have seen DC Cab) but the way Tate is written doesn’t leave a lot of room for nuance or subtlety so I can’t fault much about Baldwin’s performance save a few lines he reads a little flatly.

Both the hitmen are unquestionably bad guys here, but in much the same vein as other multi-villain pictures like Freddy vs. Jason, Alien vs. Predator, and Kramer vs. Kramer they’ve chosen one villain to be more sympathetic than the other. Through some beautifully understated make-up work and the strategic placement of a hearing aid, Roy Scheider was made to look dramatically older in a movie released in 1989 than he actually did in The Punisher in 2004. You get the impression that Cohen doesn’t even want to do this job but since he doesn’t have a lot of options he has to take what he can get. The man is clearly good at what he does but you see a lot of doubt and regret beneath his grim determination. There are two very brief moments where Cohen drops the act and you that at his core, Cohen really wishes his life had gone a different way; this is also shown in how he deals with Travis. He knows Travis will be killed but he seem to not want to think about it, treating the job as a simple drop-off mission. No matter how obviously screwed the job is, Cohen denies every one of Tate’s insistencies that they should just kill Travis and run. Scheider’s name was undoubtedly the big draw on release but even in this small forgotten movie, the man never phones it in.

“You shut your mouth, DC Cab is a cinema classic!”

In the pantheon of cult filmmakers Eric Red’s name doesn’t come up a lot; this is partially due to his small filmography and the fact that his most memorable movies (The Hitcher and Near Dark) are movies he only wrote and didn’t direct. Even his biggest triumph, Bad Moon: an adaptation of the novel Thor which features the best looking werewolf in cinema history and the second best scene of Michael Pare laughing sardonically whilst pissing on a doghouse, is an underrated and largely forgotten gem even amongst werewolf enthusiasts. But even if Red is far lesser known than genre greats like Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson, Walter Hill, John Carpenter, Stuart Gordon, or Joe Dante he’s equally influential to cult movies. Even in the movies he didn’t direct you can feel that Eric Red style; lonely Texas highways dotted with all-night diners and gas stations run by quiet simple folk living in a world that’s seemingly both quaint and apocalyptic, they belong to Eric Red in the same way that Christmas belongs to Shane Black.

It’s not hard to imagine Cohen and Tate taking place on those same dusky highways as The Hitcher and Near Dark and the feel of all three movies is very similar. Even the violence is handled in that same Sam Peckinpah-ish way where there’s very little actual gore but an absurd amount of blood so even though it shows very little, your mind fills each moment of violence with grotesque detail. The violent scenes in this movie have a fast and informal nature to them that somehow makes the pain of each wound feel palpable and heavy.

There’s a heavy tension running throughout; the opening massacre sets a tone for the rest of the movie where we know that Travis will be okay but anyone else, no matter how innocent, is in mortal danger just by being onscreen. There’s a scene involving a police checkpoint that plays this tension to the hilt, especially considering its similarities to one of the early scenes from The Hitcher.

At one point, Travis accidently stumbles onto the set of Maximum Overdrive.

If there is one gripe I have, it’s with the ending. In a horror movie the general rule is that when the monster is dead, the movie is over. Once Travis is no longer in danger of being harmed by Mr. Cohen or Mr. Tate, the movie just ends. But Travis isn’t safe; whoever hired Cohen and Tate is obviously capable of finding him even in federal witness protection and they’re still out there. This kind of end isn’t uncommon for horror movies but that kind of fatalism feels pretty bleak when our protagonist is a nine-year-old who just lost his family. Even a little ending crawl giving a little epilogue would’ve worked but the abrupt close leaves the viewer feeling that for Travis, the danger has just begun.

Cohen & Tate isn’t a perfect movie and while it is an unfairly forgotten movie, it still feels like a cult movie at best. It takes some brave chances with tone and genre mashing, effectively making the first buddy-killer movie that I’m aware of. Still its characters and stories aren’t likely to stick out as starkly in the collective unconscious as the John Riders, Ash Williamses, and Snake Plisskins of the world. Cohen and Tate is, at best, an above average movie, but it’s one that everyone should see at least once.

The Package

This is a fairly standard package for a small movie. There’s a featurette with Eric Red, Harley Cross, the actor who played the state trooper Travis meets early in the movie, and the cinematographer; unfortunately Adam Baldwin either wasn’t interested or had a scheduling conflict and Roy Scheider is dead.

There’s some extended scenes that were cut for length, “excessive violence”, or because they were painful to watch (there’s a scene where Tate howls along to a generic heavy metal cover of Mary Had a Little Lamb that hurt my soul to sit through.)

There are no English subtitles, which wouldn’t be a huge deal had the box not promised that there were; but there’s not even a menu option for them and pushing the subtitles button on my remote didn’t bring them up either. This seems like kind of a big oversight for a company like Shout! Factory which has thus-far put out nothing but top shelf product. Still, it’s not a deal breaker unless you’re half-deaf like I am. Picture is 1080p High Def widescreen (1.78:1) with DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo sound.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars

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