MOVIE REVIEW | Tough Guys (1986)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “It’s an outright hilarious, and not always deliberately so, take on 50s and 80s stereotypes. ”

Tough 1
“We’ll steal the whole Goddamn train and ride it to Mexico.”

The best thing about modern entertainment technology is, we have absolutely everything at out fingertips.  Pretty much any movie I have ever heard of is a few mouse clicks away, or streaming right into my telly when I want to watch it.  The worst part is, we have absolutely everything at out fingertips.  When there are things out there you know you’ll love, there’s no need to ever take a risk on something you know little about.  But when I was a kid, having only four TV channels meant often having to settle for whatever was on.  That meant sitting through some real shit bombs, but it also mean stumbling across movies that I love to this day.  Movies like Tough Guys.

30 years before the movie starts, Archie (Kirk Douglas) and Harry (Burt Lancaster) became legends as America’s last train robbers.  Caught and convicted, they spent three decades in the clink and are finally released.  Fish out of water in a world that moved on, their legend has faded and almost disappeared, and they’re no longer the young, good time gangsters of the 50s.  They’re old men in a new, 80s world.  A world where Harry is forced into mandatory retirement and Archie has to take a minimum wage job pouring frozen yoghurt for spoilt kids.  All the while, veteran cop Deke (Charles Durning) is convinced they’ll reoffend, and is determined to be there when they do.  Also on their tail is a vengeful, shotgun wielding half blind man (Eli Wallach) with a score to settle.

But there are some points of light in their lives too.  Harry meets an old flame (Alexis Smith as Belle) at his retirement home.  And their probation officer, Richie (Dana Carvey), is a super fanboy, obsessed with the gangsters of their hay day and ready to help in any way he can.  After several attempts at the straight and narrow, Archie and Harry realise that the only way they’ll be happy is to revert to their old ways.

Sure, Douglas and Lancaster might be the marquee names.  And l’m sure Dana Carvey was seen as the next big thing, but the clear stand out in Tough Guys is Eli Wallach.  His grumpy old man schtick, combined with his gloriously cutting sarcasm, as well as some first rate physical humor, really is something behold.  I probably haven’t seen Tough Guys in at least 15 years, but every time Wallach appeared on screen, his impending crackling one liners and slapstick gags would come flooding back into my memory amazingly clear detail.
Tough 2
There’s no doubt Tough Guys would have been seen as a kind of funny fish out of water story in 1986, as Harry and Archie try to find a place for their 50s values and preconceptions in the then modern, 80s world.  But watching it now, it’s an outright hilarious, and not always deliberately so, take on 50s and 80s stereotypes.  The 80s world of Tough Guys isn’t the reality of the 80s, it’s the movie, Hollywood version.  The fashions and social attitudes are heightened to levels that would have seemed a little exaggerated then, and totally alien now.  But for all of its unintentional jokes, I still found myself laughing with it, way more than at it.

Tough Guys
Directed By – Jeff Kanew
Written By – James Orr, Jim Cruickshank

Other Opinions Are Available.  What did these people have to say about Tough Guys?
Roger Ebert
The New York Times
A Gator in Naples

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