COHEN & TATE (1988) Blu-ray
Director: Eric Red
Shout! Factory

Two lethal mob hitmen meet their match in a nine year old boy in Eric Red’s COHEN AND TATE (no, it’s not a buddy comedy), a Blu-ray exclusive from Shout! Factory.

Nine year old Travis Knight (Harley Cross, THE BELIEVERS) and his parents Jeff (Cooper Huckabee, THE FUNHOUSE) and Martha (Suzanne Savoy, THE CELLAR) are living on a farm under federal witness protection since Travis witnessed the murder of a Texas mobster. The mobsters, eager to learn the identity of the shooter, decide to hire a pair of hitmen with mismatched temperaments – Cohen (Roy Scheider, JAWS) and Tate (Adam Baldwin, FULL METAL JACKET) – to take out the parents and bring the boy back to Houston. Things quickly go awry when the hitmen learn that the father survived and has provided their descriptions to the police. Cohen is set on finishing the job but Travis just wants to waste the kid and take off; so observant Travis tries to buy himself some time by turning the two men against each other, which may be easier than imagined since Tate is flat-out nuts and cracks are beginning to appear in Cohen’s calm façade over his infirmities.

However good the film actually is, it’s easy to see why it fell through the cracks; but it would probably have made a better double bill with THE HOT SPOT than KILLING ME SOFTLY in Shout’s upcoming double feature. The debut feature of screenwriter Eric Red (BODY PARTS), COHEN AND TATE is somewhere between a noir quickie and a character study with its finer edges presumably dulled down by the Hollywood development process (which extended to the inclusion of a completely unnecessary introductory text crawl). The broadstrokes are there with Scheider’s initially Zen urban contract killer contrasted with Baldwin’s psychotic hick (the vulnerable sides of whom are afforded only a few calculated “grace note” scenes each). The manipulative efforts of Cross’ character are believably opportunistic, however, and the reactions of the adult characters are what keeps things tense and unpredictable. The relationships never really develop satisfactorily for the ending to be dramatically resonant, but this disposable road trip isn’t a bad ride at all.

An MGM property, COHEN & TATE never made it to retail DVD on that label, but it did get a burn-on-demand release through their limited edition DVD-R line in 2011. Shout! Factory has created a new HD master that serves as the source for this 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC-encoded Blu-ray. The widescreen (1.85:1) image is appropriately grainy during the many night location and car interior scenes, the reds stand out vividly (from car taillights to splattery squibs), with detail levels particularly telling in the contrast between Scheider’s weathered face with those of the younger Baldwin and Cross. Audio tracks include a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 rendering of the perfectly fine Dolby Stereo mix as well as a 5.1 upmix in which Tom Conti’s serviceable score and some louder effects sometimes stray into the rear channels. Strangely, Shout! has left off their usual optional English SDH subtitles from this release (although the back cover does state their presence). MGM did not tack on their logo to their master, which retains the Nelson Entertainment theatrical logo.

Eric Red goes solo on an audio commentary track in which he discusses his desire for his directorial debut to be a suspense film and a road movie; not surprising since his previous produced efforts were his screenplays for THE HITCHER and NEAR DARK (of which the cinematography of Victor J. Kemper [CLUE] is reminiscent). He cites his influences as being primarily Sam Peckinpah and THE SEARCHERS (although the Blu-ray back cover refers to it as a cinematic version of O. Henry’s “The Ransom at Red Chief” in which a pair of kidnappers ends up paying the father to take back his bratty kid). He talks about the general importance of rehearsals with actors to refine characterization while making an exception for child actors whose energy he describes as “lightning in a bottle” (he has continued this practice in other films where he has used child actors like BAD MOON). He does refer to cut scenes as well as MPAA-mandated cuts to violence, although he also emphasizes that film’s most violent deaths were intentionally kept offscreen.

The MPAA-mandated cut footage – apart from some extra bits of Baldwin terrorizing Savoy that Abroms described (and might have been cut before the version submitted to the MPAA) – appears in a “Deleted and Uncut Scenes” (19:40) distillation of the film in workprint form. Besides restored gore to the opening massacre, the climax is also significantly juicier with more squib hits to both characters (as well as a grizzly bit in which Baldwin’s hands keep slipping on his own blood as he tries to pump his gun). The death of one of the characters by machinery remains offscreen as it does in the feature, but there are some additional frames before as well as some additional reactions from the witnesses. Besides the MPAA-mandated cuts, there are a number of extensions and additional scenes, including an opening sequence of Travis arriving home from school that affords Savoy some more screen time, an alternate edit of the scene in which the hitman learn from the radio that the police are searching for them, additional angles during the gas station scene that actually add to the tension, an entire additional attack scene at the oil refinery that may have been cut out because it was deemed overkill (but it still seems like it should have been left in), as well as an extended version of the final scene that brings back Huckabee’s character (who is nowhere in the scene as it appears in the final version, which – no offense to Huckabee – plays better without him).

The featurette “A Look Back at COHEN AND TATE” (20:41) is sort of a digest version of the commentary track; however, Red’s – sometimes relating information almost verbatim from the commentary – comments are bolstered by the participation of actors Harley Cross, Kenneth McCabe (who plays the gas station attendant), and Frank Bates (who plays the ill-fated highway patrolman), as well as editor Edward Abroms (CHERRY 2000), and cinematographer Kemper. Although Red, Kemper, and Abroms were impressed with Cross, the actor recalls just being “a kid running around” and the long night shoots. Everyone is complimentary of Scheider, and Red is of Baldwin but Abroms and Kemper found his character to be over-the-top and one-note. McCabe recalls his scenes with Scheider and Cross, which should seem insignificant to the viewer; however, the deleted scenes do reveal that there was originally a bit more to the scene. Bates recalls meeting the Cross for the first time and mentions that they would later enter in a business together. It seems that Red is the only participant who has anything substantial to say about the film (and you would have heard most of it in the commentary), but it is nice that Shout! was able to round up some of the other participants (too bad they couldn’t get Baldwin, as it would have been interesting to hear his thoughts on one of his first dramatic lead roles). A trailer for the feature (2:25) rounds out the package. (Eric Cotenas)