Without sounding too negative right off the bat, which of course means I probably will to most readers, 'Cohen & Tate' rides that fine line between good and bad, where its best qualities can and often are overshadowed by its weaker parts. Where the movie succeeds is in the premise itself as a pair of mismatched hired guns must travel overnight with a somewhat obnoxious but crafty little boy.
A promising plot to say the least, the idea is also ripe with several pitfalls that could potentially bring the whole picture to a dead stop. The most dangerous of those hazards is maintaining the crime thriller turned road movie engaging enough for almost ninety minutes, which it does and doesn't. But contrary to what the above may imply, I really wanted to like this mostly forgotten 1989 thriller, partly due to some vague memories of believing it was better than this.
After Cohen (a steely-eyed Roy Scheider) and Tate (an overzealous Adam Baldwin) murder a family under witness protection, the two assassins kidnap 9-year-old Travis Knight (a brash little Harley Cross). The journey back to Texas where Travis witnessed a mob hit is what caught my attention then and still does now. It's not long before the road trip starts steering into disaster with the sort of cosmic irony of an O. Henry tale. Travis turns out to be a cunning, resourceful and somewhat insufferable little brat, ultimately pitting the two polar-opposite killers against one another.
It's clear from the onset that the road towards disaster had already been brewing before our meeting the eponymous characters. Cohen is a seasoned and highly professional hit man, but he's also showing signs of weariness and feeling drained by the work. Tate, on the other hand, is an impetuous, overtly enthusiastic psychopath. As we might expect, the older, more experienced killer is constantly annoyed by the other's hot-tempered eagerness, as are we to some degree. The kid takes advantage of this rupture by intentionally irritating Tate at every turn.
The pairing of the two men is a complete mystery, which only adds more fuel to an already sizzling fire. When the two work well together, they really work well together, as seen in the police checkpoint sequence — the film's most suspenseful and exciting highpoint. (It's too bad we don't have more scenes like these to keep the energy going.) But at any moment, the men are bound to erupt into a deadly match of who's the better assassin, which is what we're essentially waiting for.
Unfortunately, and much like the characters themselves, these minor positives are paired with a series of other, more boring moments, most of which pretty much dominate the majority of the runtime. The back-and-forth bickering between the men starts to wear thin fairly soon. In fact, it grows annoying after about twenty minutes of Cohen warning Tate about his erratic behavior and pointing a loaded shotgun at Cohen's face while driving. After a while, the movie feels like a family road trip where audiences sit in the backseat as mom and dad relentlessly argue all the way to our destination.
From writer and director Eric Red, 'Cohen & Tate' is a film with a great deal of potential and a worthwhile premise. Only, Red doesn't seem capable enough to pull it off and sustain an engaging pace — driving the speed limit one minute, stepping on the gas pedal the next and then suddenly slowing down to a crawl another minute later. Red is better known as the writer of 'The Hitcher (1986),' 'Near Dark' and for directing 'Body Parts,' which is another reason for my interest in watching, but in this instance, the movie is probably best forgotten. While there are parts of the ride I did enjoy, I can't deny the boring parts where there wasn't much to see, and we doze off for a few minutes so as to kill time.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings 'Cohen & Tate' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD50 disc. It housed inside the standard blue keepcase. At startup, viewers are taken straight to the main screen with the usual menu options on the left side while full-motion clips and music play in the background.
'Cohen & Tate' take Blu-ray hostage with a strong but not highly impressive 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. A thin layer of grain washes over the picture with little fluctuation, but in a couple scenes, the grain can look a tad thicker than most. Several moments are also noticeably blurry and softer than others, much of which can be forgiven as the result of the original photography. On the other hand, fine object and textural details can be quite revealing, particularly during close-ups of the cast. Contrast is arguably the best aspect of the presentation, providing a nice, vivid image. Since much of the story takes place at night, blacks are important, and thankfully, they're accurately rendered with excellent shadow details. The palette is fairly limited, but the few splashes of color we do see appear bold and well-saturated.
Per usual, Shout provides viewers with two listening options, and as always, the closer to the original design the better. This means that the 2.0 stereo option presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio codec is the preferred soundtrack. Being a dialogue and character-driven thriller, the conversations between actors takes precedence over other aspects, and vocals are very well-prioritized with great clarity. Background activity is still audible, of course, with discrete effects spreading into the other channels, widening the soundstage. However, the lossless mix also feels somewhat flat and uniform, with a mid-range that isn't pushed very far and a noticeably lacking low-end. The music of Bill Conti does better in given the movie some appreciable presence, but it still feels pretty dull and even. Overall, we have a decently good high-rez track with little to make it noteworthy or memorable.
Despite an intriguing premise, 'Cohen & Tate' meanders. The crime thriller turned road movie from writer and director Eric Red has its moments, but they're not enough to overshadow its drawbacks. The Blu-ray arrives with a mostly strong audio and video presentation. The bonus material is a nice complement although not particularly noteworthy. The overall package makes for a decent purchase, but fans with fond memories are likely to buy while others can give it a rent first.