Two elderly gangsters are released from prison only to find they have trouble fitting in as old men who still take no guff from anyone. Cinematography by King Baggot (The Last Starfighter).
Hollywood loves a dynamic duo - especially when the combined star power can bring in the crowds and light a little fire under the box office. Of the numerous star pairings to come over the years, the combination of Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas is one of the most endearing. They may not have been the closest of friends off camera, but when the two screen legends were in front of the camera they were a talented force to be reckoned with. Whether in a drama, western, thriller, or even a light-hearted action comedy, the pair brought all of their charms and swagger to each role. With 1986's Tough Guys, Douglas and Lancaster find themselves as old-timers in a modern world who must prove they still have what it takes to pull off the grandest heist of their careers.
Harry Doyle (Burt Lancaster) and Archie Long (Kirk Douglas) are career criminals. Granted, the last thirty years of that career has been spent behind bars, but in their day they were the best. After attempting to hijack the Gold Coast Flyer train, the pair ended up spending their better years together as cellmates. Now that they've paid their debt to society, they're free men - only the world they knew isn't the same as before. When all of your best friends are dead, your favorite bar isn't at all what it used to be, it's tough to adjust. With a star-struck parole officer named Richie (Dana Carvey) watching over them, the cop who busted them Yablonski (Charles Durning) shadowing them, and a crazed hitman named Leon (Eli Wallach) out to kill them, what are two low-fi criminals to do in the hi-fi world of the 1980s? When the pair hear that the Gold Coast Flyer is to be retired after one last run, Archie and Harry muster the gumption for one last heist, one that will take them out on top.
If there is a criticism to be levied against Tough Guys it is that the film can feel a bit too saccharine for its own good. Part of this overt sweetness stems from Lancaster's failing heath. After undergoing a quadruple bypass surgery just two years prior to this film's release, Lancaster is noticeably off his usual vigorous pace. It's kind of tough going from films like The Train or The Professionals where Lancaster is doing nearly all of his own stunts to seeing him standing still because any physical activity looked strenuous. Meanwhile, Kirk Douglas looks to be in the prime of life freely showcasing his fit physique. To that end, much of Tough Guys feels like a farewell tour of sorts for Douglas and Lancaster making the film a little bittersweet while somewhat overly sentimental.
Thankfully, there's enough fun going on here that the sweet sentimentality of two coworkers final outing doesn't completely derail Tough Guys. There is a playful and robust fish-out-of-water energy to the film that keeps things moving along nicely. As far as the plot goes, the film is pretty predictable. We know fairly early on that the straight and narrow lifestyle for these two men isn't an option and that their old ways are entirely too enticing to ignore. What makes the journey of getting them to that place worth the time is watching them react to the 1980s world they now inhabit. Seeing Douglas dancing at a Red Hot Chili Peppers before the band was a big deal is the only real indicator of tone you need for this sort of action-comedy.
In addition to Lancaster and Douglas, Tough Guys benefits from a strong supporting cast. Dana Carvey in his pre-SNL days is suitably fit for the dopey Richie while Charles Durning plays his tough guy cop persona to some solid laughs. However, most of the best gags arrive at the expense of Eli Wallach's myopic hitman Leon. Some of his jokes boil down to the slipped banana peel variety, but he plays them straight as an arrow allowing his moments to shine.
At the end of the day, Tough Guys is a fine little film. It's nothing amazing, it's not the best script, nor is it the most successful action-comedy to make it to movie screens, but it is fun. It's nice to see Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster on screen together. Apparently, their friendship didn't extend past when cameras were rolling, but you can see in all of their films -- from Gunfight At The O.K. Corral to The Devil's Disciple to Seven Days In May -- that the pair had a mutual respect for one another. It's this appreciation towards one another that makes Tough Guys, their final outing together, worth watching. It's clean, turn-off-your-brain entertainment.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Tough Guys arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics label. Pressed onto a Region A locked BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a standard Blu-ray case with reversible artwork. The disc loads directly to a static image main menu featuring traditional navigation options. Also included is a booklet containing cover artwork for Kino Lorber Studio Classics releases.
Nothing on the artwork for Tough Guys indicates the vintage of this 2.35:1 1080p transfer, but it must have been fairly recent as this is a terrific looking Blu-ray. Detail levels are sharp and crisp allowing for natural edges that clearly define object space as well as allowing the audience to appreciate facial features, clothing, and the 80s stylings. Skin tones have a natural color to them. Colors skew towards the bright bold neons, bright reds, and purples of the era while keeping an even pace with primary color saturation. Black levels are on point allowing for a nice sense of inky blacks with plenty of shadow separation and dimension. Film grain is intact while the only visible damage comes in the form of slight scratches and speckling during the opening credits. Once those credits have done their job, the rest of the film looks fantastic.
Tough Guys makes its mark with a solid English DTS-HD MA 2.0 soundtrack. While being an action comedy, the film favors dialogue and comedy over action, but it doesn't skimp on the audio fidelity either. Dialogue is crisp and clear throughout. Sound effects veer from natural and even to the heavy-handed slab of beef canned punches and gunfire of your typical 80s action flick would bathe in. Even with some of the heavy sound effects, all of the elements remain even and naturally dispersed, even during loud moments like the previously mentioned Chili Peppers concert retain the expected cacophony of music, crowd noise, and dialogue without fouling up the mix. Levels are spot on without having the need to adjust the volume once you've hit your comfort zone. All around, a virtually flawless mix for a film of this type.
Aside from a pretty great commentary from Director Jeff Kanew, the bonus features package for Tough Guys follows the standard collection of trailers that comes with most Kino Lorber Studio Classics releases.
Audio Commentary: With Director Jeff Kanew
The Indian Fighter (SD 2:25)
The Vikings (SD 3:26)
Run Silent, Run Deep (HD 3:02)
Cast A Giant Shadow (SD 3:40)
The Scalphunters (SD 3:13)
The Unforgiven (SD 4:30)
The Devil's Disciple (HD 2:56)
Tough Guys may not have been the greatest Kirk Douglas Burt Lancaster outing to grace the screen, but the two long-time collaborators are in their element together with this action comedy. The film features a bitter-sweet sense of finality to it, but it thankfully never loses its sense of fun and entertainment. With a great supporting cast, the film's a good time well worth a viewing. Kino Lorber Studio Classics has done a bang-up job bringing this one to Blu-ray. With a fantastic A/V presentation and a decent audio commentary, Tough Guys is an easy one to recommend for fans of these two silver screen legends.