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Cohen & Tate DVD Review

Cohen & Tate (1989) movie poster Cohen & Tate

Theatrical Release: January 27, 1989 / Running Time: 85 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Eric Red

Cast: Roy Scheider (Cohen), Adam Baldwin (Tate), Harley Cross (Travis Knight), Cooper Huckabee (Jeff Knight), Suzanne Savoy (Martha Knight), Marco Perella (FBI George), Tom Campitelli (FBI Fred), Andrew R. Gill (FBI Roy), Frank Bates (Highway Patrolman), James Jeter (Trooper #1), Jeff Bennett (Trooper #2), Kenneth McCabe (Gas Station Attendant)

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Cohen & Tate may sound like a law firm, but the title of this 1989 thriller actually refers to two hitmen who abduct a boy that proves to be more of a handful than anticipated.
Presumably having witnessed and testified against some crime in Texas, the Knight family has relocated to the heartland, where their house is guarded around the clock. Three FBI agents aren't enough for the titular mob heavies, who invade the house and shoot to kill nearly everyone they encounter. The one exception is 9-year-old Travis (Harley Cross), who is kidnapped to be driven alive to their superiors in Houston.

Though they share a calling, Cohen and Tate otherwise could not be more different. Cohen (Jaws' Roy Scheider) is the cold veteran, quiet and methodical on the job. Tate (Adam Baldwin, shortly after Full Metal Jacket) is his young and unwelcome partner, an unrefined hotheaded motormouth who is eager to kill the boy at the slightest provocation. Recognizing their clashing personalities, Travis tries to turn his mismatched captors against one another, making the 355-mile overnight drive a challenging one.

Misters Tate (Adam Baldwin) and Cohen (Roy Scheider) are on the job, crashing the Knight family's rural new home and taking out almost everyone there. Child actor Harley Cross claims third billing as 9-year-old back seat abductee Travis Knight, who looks for escape opportunities.

This film is the feature directorial debut of Eric Red, who had already had some success as a writer, of 1986's The Hitcher and Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark. Red must have enjoyed wearing two hats; all four of his times in the director's chair since Cohen & Tate have also employed him as screenwriter. Though more experienced as a scribe than a helmer, Red fares better behind the camera here than at his writing desk.

The script is rather plagued by holes, glaring logic lapses, and inconsistencies. Part of the problem is that the backstory is never fleshed out. What did the Knights see and do? What crime organization would ever need a 9-year-old boy alive while rubbing out everyone else in his life? What kind of police officers give in to the demands of a couple of murderous kidnappers, turning in their guns, handcuffing themselves, and letting the suspects go free?

The biggest problem of all seems to be that Red has no idea how either criminals or children talk and behave. Not that he needed to interview prison inmates to get speaking style down; he could have just watched authentic crime movies so as not to make the two thugs sound like Abbott and Costello as they fuss over the car radio, talk about windshield insect casualties, and become completely lost when their map goes missing. Those kinds of thing would be fine in a 1970s Disney comedy or Cop and a Half, but this isn't anything like those in tone. Cohen & Tate is dark, sullen, and ominous.

Cocky young thug Tate (Adam Baldwin) displays his brass knuckles as a threat to his young passenger. Unrealistically lit seasoned hitman Mr. Cohen (Roy Scheider) exhibits a tiny modicum of warmth as he answers fearful Travis' questions.

Such disharmony breeds ludicrousness that the appeal of the story and one-night road trip design can't overcome. But Red makes a valiant effort as director, creating airs of hopelessness and horror befitting this late night drive. As the uninspired title suggests, the movie is more about the two nasty antagonists than the sweet Southern boy who looks to outwit them. That limits what the movie can and wants to do story-wise, relying on circumstance and misunderstanding to pave the way for the duo's inevitable undoing.

Scheider wields some gravity as the hearing-impaired senior, who shows some signs of warmth and redeemability. Still, you never shake the feel that this movie is too dumb for what he gives it. On the other hand, Baldwin (no relation to the famous acting clan) is just as dumb as the movie wants him to be and that is very dumb, with a stupid accent and inexplicable temper rendering him a caricature.
Despite driving the plot, Harley Cross doesn't get to do too much, besides trying an unbecoming drawl and having an adult humorously substitute for him in scenes of potential danger.

Released to 75 theaters in the end of January 1989 (three and a half months after debuting in Spain's Sitges Film Festival), Cohen & Tate didn't get much notice, grossing a measly $64 thousand for indie distributor Hemdale Film Corporation, which closed in 1995. The studio's library of around 60 titles went to a French holding company, which eventually was absorbed into Orion Pictures, which was then sold to Metro Goldwyn Mayer near the end of the 1990s. No rights issue kept Cohen & Tate unavailable on DVD for the past fourteen years (River's Edge and Oliver Stone's Salvador, both Hemdale-distributed films, made their format debuts back in 2001). It must have been the lack of regard that delayed Cohen & Tate, which recently came to DVD-R from MGM and partner 20th Century Fox's new Limited Edition Collection manufacturing on demand program.

Cohen & Tate DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Surround 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: March 15, 2011
Single-sided, single-layered DVD-R (DVD-5)
List Price: $19.98
Black Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

DVD preserves the film's 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio and enhances it for 16:9 widescreen televisions.
Films Directed and/or Written by Eric Red:

Roy Scheider on DVD and Blu-ray:
Anyone who's seen a manufactured on demand DVD knows that picture quality doesn't always deliver the same high standards of most modern retail product. An unavoidable disclaimer warns of a potentially unsatisfactory presentation. With expectations lowered, the disc could meet them, but it definitely isn't up there with Fox's generally great-looking catalog titles from the same era. The video is soft, dark, and slightly blurry. It is not completely free of small imperfections, like scratches. It's definitely watchable and better than an undegraded VHS, but it would be deemed disappointing without the lowered standards of its kind.

Likewise, the Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is adequate. It isn't any clearer than the picture is, but it's good enough that you won't greatly mind the lack of subtitles and closed captioning (unless you are hearing impaired like Cohen). Oddly, there are a few instances where the words uttered don't match the mouth movements. In such cases, most notable on a few Adam Baldwin passenger seat outbursts, his lips are saying something more profane than what the soundtrack contains. I don't think that we're getting a TV edit of some scenes, because profanity still flows regularly. And if that wasn't enough to earn an R rating, the sometimes exaggerated violence would. I don't know what to make of the noticeable inconsistencies, but I found a review from a couple years back mentioning it, so as you would expect, this is not a new issue.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Just a single bonus feature is found here: Cohen & Tate's original theatrical trailer, the easiest and most appropriate extra to include.

A minimalist design pervades this DVD. The back of the case has an unusual amount of empty space (even with a larger than usual font). The simple disc label is something you could make yourself in about 12 seconds. And the menu only offers the choice to watch the movie or the trailer. Though chapter stops are offered at 10-minute intervals, no scene selection menu is provided. With no dubs or subtitles, there is no need for a Set Up screen. Need it be said there is no insert inside the uncut Eco-Box keepcase?

Tate (Adam Baldwin), Travis (Harley Cross), and Cohen (Roy Scheider) act cool as they slowly move through a highway police check point.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Cohen & Tate has a decent premise and is constructed well enough to stay invested, but the film is riddled with plot holes, bad writing, and baffling turns that don't add up to anything satisfying. Fans will appreciate that this supposedly underrated action movie is finally available on DVD, but the disc is manufactured on demand 101, supplying a modest feature presentation and trailer, but no subtitles, useful scene selection, or remarkable extras. And to boot it will set you back a bit more than the vast majority of catalog DVDs today. Such is the state of the home video industry approaching the middle of 2011. You'll have to either be crazy about this film or ravenous for catalog content to make this disc a high priority for your collection.

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Reviewed April 29, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1989 Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Nelson Entertainment, Hemdale Film Corporation, Tate Productions,
and 2011 MGM and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.