Classic Cannon: Tough Guys Don't Dance (1987)

Andrew reviews Cannon Films' most pretentious misfire in their library.

Not leftovers again!!!!
The Go-Go Boys at Cannon Films went through a brief period where co-owners Menahem Golan and Yorum Globus took great risks to try their hand at something a little more artistic than the usual schlock they became infamous for.  Usually when the name Cannon is brought up, horror stories about how much destructive interference the dynamic duo wrought on filmmakers' films with their suggestions/demands/alterations.  For a while however the good old Go-Go Boys kept out of the way and allowed filmmakers with singular, confident visions to make films as they saw fit with no meddling from the Cannon Group whatsoever.  In this period came great things like OtelloRunaway Train and Barfly, films that achieved both critical success and helped to fend off the studio's poor reputation in Hollywood.  But sometimes a picture comes along that in all honesty may have benefitted from some oversight and possible interference from the Cannon Boys.  Such is the case with Pulitzer Prize winning novelist turned filmmaker Norman Mailer's Tough Guys Don't Dance, a pretentious, aggravating and often outright laughably bad train wreck of a film whose every misstep, every misdirection and every smart nosed cockamamie plot twist is entirely the fault of it's writer director, Norman Mailer.  Golan-Globus couldn't imagine a film this shockingly bad if they tried!

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Oh noooo!!!! I'm not eating that meatloaf.
It's been in the fridge for days! 
Starring Ryan O'Neal as a writer in Provincetown, Massachusetts who finds his car doused in blood along with a severed head hidden in the location of his secret marijuana stash, the film springboards from the quirky and darkly comic look at small town America pioneered by David Lynch's Blue Velvet.  If working from Lynch isn't enough, Tough Guys Don't Dance even sports a trademark surreal and atmospheric score by Lynch regular Angelo Badalamenti and prominently features Blue Velvet starlet Isabella Rossellini alongside O'Neal.  Mailer's picture purports to be a darkly comic neo-noir which takes full advantage of the ghostly Provincetown locale but under Mailer's total control of the piece and unwillingness to listen to O Neal's suggestions/objections, the end result is closer to the ridiculous scenery chewing and ostentatious dialogue of Sam Pillsbury's Zandalee.  

Years later Clint Eastwood would arguably retell the same story more successfully with Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and while that film was no ground breaker, it doesn't scrape the barrel of bad melodrama films like this do.  Honestly, Tough Guys Don't Dance is sort of like the extraterrestrial worldview of The Room with a filmmaker behind it.  Visually the film is solid and the actors try their best but everyone's efforts are undermined by an auteur so in love with his own script he couldn't bring himself to drop the film's most infamous speech from ever being shot: a spinning 360 degree whip pan of Ryan O'Neal exclaiming repeatedly 'Oh God! Oh Man! Oh God! Oh Man!.  To O'Neal's credit, the actor objected to doing the scene finding it as ridiculous as everyone who saw the film, but God bless Norman Mailer's belief that you cannot compromise an artist's vision.  Without his drive, conviction to his material and reverence for his own press clippings, we wouldn't have what is now what regarded as one of the worst line deliveries in cinematic history.

Upon further reflection, we've decided
to give the meal a deep sea burial. 
Even without taking apart the film's plot, snooty dialogue and lack of cohesion, Tough Guys Don't Dance takes off running without allowing for room to invest in characters or plot whatsoever.  For every minute of the running time, I was indifferent when I wasn't groaning or laughing aloud.  It would be one thing if this were another Cannon chunk of cultural disconnect like The Apple or Over the Top but despite being co-financed by Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope Pictures, this material would have been bad no matter which studio Mailer pitched it to.  Years later, Mailer would admit his own inability to alter the printed word for the moving image in the course of directing Tough Guys Don't Dance would result in much unintentional hilarity.  A year after the film's release, Mailer accepted the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Director, proof that he can at least own up to the error of his ways.  Sadly the setting, noirish premise and Lynchian connotations are sunk completely by Mailer whose story might have fared better in less devoted hands.  As it stands, Tough Guys Don't Dance is a terrible film which begs the question why the Go-Go Boys didn't step in and reel Mailer's portentous misdirection.  Through no fault of their own, Cannon Films delivered the kind of bad movie that only an acclaimed artist with a vision could possibly concoct let alone direct.  This may in fact be, objectively speaking, the worst film in Cannon Films' library in all seriousness.


- Andrew Kotwicki