Eric Red certainly is one such screenwriting talent who - in his heydey in the late 1980s - had no fewer than three cult hits, The Hitcher (1986), Near Dark (1987), and Blue Steel (1989).
The three examples above all had a great atmosphere, particularly the original version of The Hitcher, in which C. Thomas Howell's long-distance car driver was up against the memorably psychotic John Ryder, played by Rutger Hauer. Near Dark and Blue Steel gave Kathryn Bigelow a great foothold in the business, both competently directed films.
Given his potential in the screenwriting arena, there was bound to be an air of anticipation for a fourth Red release, his directorial debut from his own script, Cohen and Tate.
With Roy Scheider and Full Metal Jacket's Adam Baldwin ('Animal Mother') in the lead, the film focuses on a pair of hit-men, the titular Cohen and Tate (Scheider and Baldwin respectively), who are assigned to bring a child, 9-year-old Travis Knight (Harley Cross), who witnessed a mob killing and have tracked him down to a safe-house where they kill his parents and abduct the child so he can be returned to mobsters in Houston to be spoken to. However, as the trip to Houston develops, the relationships and objectives start to cloud, as well as the trust amongst men…
Cohen and Tate certainly has an intriguing premise. Apparently, the story is based on O. Henry's short story The Ransom of Red Chief, which isn't a well-known piece of literature. As a thriller, if this was put in the competent and talented hands of the Coen Brothers or Denis Villeneuve, it would have come over pretty well.
Unfortunately, Red doesn't realise the heart and dynamic at the centre of his story could lay the foundation for a deep analysis in a core genre piece. As a result, the feeling at the end of the film is one of dissatisfaction and frustration, particularly in light of the fact that the film lacks a solid third act.
The through-line of the story isn't quite clear and part of the problem, in this case is that the boy is the main protagonist, as befits the neat caption which opens the film. Key characters are left hanging in the narrative, in particular, Travis' father (played by The Funhouse's Cooper Huckabee) who features in the grippingly staged opening segment when Cohen and Tate arrive at the safe house where the boy is kept.
The second problem is the characterization of Cohen and Tate, which is another underdeveloped strand of the film. Scheider's bravura acting talent shines through just about and his past filmography manages to keep our focus on him. Baldwin comes across as nothing more than a spoiled brat of a hit-man with little subtext and heart underneath. More the pity, really, as a re-write or two could have yielded a memorably dark noir film thriller like The Getaway.
Overall, Cohen and Tate will garner some attention as part of Arrow Film's ongoing commitment to releasing quality cult product. As with 52 Pick-Up, fans of the late, great Roy Scheider will have some reason to cheer, but the very thing that relegated it to an also-ran in the release schedule back in 1989 will rear its weakened head and heart once again. It has some neat moments of suspense and has retained the atmosphere of The Hitcher during the mid-section (a road block sequence holds the attention), but won't hit the mark the way Hauer and Howell did.
COHEN AND TATE (1988) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: ERIC RED / STARRING: ROY SCHEIDER, ADAM BALDWIN, HARLEY CROSS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW