Eric Red's directorial debut "Cohen and Tate" follows ideas Red previously explored in his scripts for "The Hitcher" (a true classic) and "Near Dark." All three films take an innocent outsider and throw them in the middle of danger with one or more psychos. In this film, the innocent is a nine-year old named Travis Knight (Harley Cross), the only witness to the slaying of his family and two FBI agents by the titular hit men: Cohen (Roy Scheider), a cool, elder professional and Tate (Adam Baldwin), a psychotic shotgun wielding thug whose survival in the murder-for-hire game is likely a result of his shoot anyone and anything attitude. Ordered by their bosses to bring the young boy in for questioning, the mismatched trio embarks on a road trip that is equal parts thriller and comedy (both intentionally dark and unintentionally cartoonish).
One can't help but feel bad for both Roy Scheider as an actor and character, saddled with not only two terrible co-stars, but also two insufferable co-characters. If there's one element of the film Red writes believably it's Cohen. Scheider is great in a B-movie role as the wizened killer. He rarely loses his cool, except when dealing with his two burdens: Tate and Travis. Obviously this shouldn't be the case and we should be rooting for Travis to play the two men's mutual disgust for each other against themselves, but as written, Travis is whiny and sarcastic, two attributes not aided by young Cross' cringe worthy performance, complete with a horrible phony Southern accent. Baldwin's portrayal as Tate jumps back and forth from a hammy menace to a second-string comic book henchmen. Most of his screen time for the first two-thirds of the movie consists of him making tired psychopathic comments and threats to kill Travis.
Red's reliance on a similar formula to that of "The Hitcher" and "Near Dark" is severely hampered by the "hero" of the film being a child too young to physically match either of his captors or do much of anything but engage in a battle of wits with the juvenile Tate or futilely attempt to escape. Instead we're almost always in the car with the trio and our only change in pace comes from brief standoffs with a highway checkpoint. By the time the home stretch of the movie arrives, the arguments feel tired and rehashed already and not even Scheider can keep the movie on course. There are some eleventh hour stabs at sentimentality between Cohen and Travis (you didn't just think Cohen's large hearing aid was a character embellishment, did you?), but they are far from natural feeling, and while the ending of the film does give a sense of satisfaction to the story, the journey to it, is more than trying.
As a directorial debut Red delivers a movie that looks and feels paced more like a late 70s/early 80s television pilot with harsh language and graphic violence. As spelled out above, the characters aren't very deeply written and even at 86-minutes, there's are more than a few just plain boring sequences. Ultimately the film doesn't fully utilize the talent of Scheider (who can be great in both A and B-level work) and Baldwin, who for the first time that I can recall, is just plain awful. Still, "Cohen and Tate" manages to mildly work enough to make it not a complete waste of time, but by no means, some forgotten classic.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is quite noisy and definition is moderate at best. Contrast is a bit rich, while colors are a bit on the light side (one would never know Roy Scheider was a notorious tanner) and edge-enhancement is quite noticeable.
The English 2.0 audio track has at times, a hollow sound to it. Dialogue and effects are generally well balanced, but there are a number of times when high-end distortion becomes apparent (i.e. a shrill radio announcer or all three lead actors screeching at each other in the cramped car). The audio gets the job done, but lacks real depth.
The film's theatrical trailer is the lone extra.
Roy Scheider is more than competent in this thinly written, mildly exciting late 80s thriller. If you've seen "The Hitcher" or "Near Dark" you'll know what framework to expect of the film, just without true genuine menace or terror. MGM's technical presentation is also worth noting for leaving much to be desired. Rent It.