Stallone Film Caught in Sony-Warner Battle : Movies: Guber-Peters and Warner Bros. court filings put a spotlight on the troubled "Tango and Cash," an action film that is racing the clock to make its Dec. 15 release.

Until a few days ago, "Tango and Cash" was a forgotten element in the legal battle between Sony and Warner Bros. over the rights to Hollywood's hottest production company,Guber-Peters Entertainment. Now, by declaring in court papers that they were taken off the movie by Warner two days before Sony asked them to run Columbia Pictures, producers Peter Guber and Jon Peters have pushed "Tango and Cash" into the foreground.

What is on view is a Sylvester Stallone-Kurt Russell action movie that sources say has been plagued by constant script revisions, poor scheduling, a change of directors and other production problems that may be pushing the film's budget beyond $50 million. And the film, the only one that the producers of "Batman" and "Rain Man" currently have in production, is being rushed toward a Dec. 15 release date that a studio executive said is "almost inconceivable" to make.

In a memorandum filed last week in Los Angeles Superior Court, Guber-Peters also claimed that Warner had replaced them on the project and, over Peters' objections, "advanced the release date of the film by many months."

In a reply memorandum filed with the same court Monday, Warner production chief Mark Canton called Guber and Peters "my best friends" and reiterated what he had told The Times last week--that he is in daily contact with the producers on matters related to the production of "Tango and Cash."

Canton also declared in his memo that film editor Stuart Baird had been hired to supervise the post-production phase of "Tango and Cash" before Sony offered to buy both Columbia Pictures and Guber-Peters, and make the duo co-chairmen of the studio. Warner has refused to release Guber and Peters from the five-year contract they signed in May.

"Tango and Cash," a story conceived by Peters about two incompatible cops forced into an alliance, went into production in June, changed directors in late August and finished two weeks of reshooting just 12 days ago.

The film finally wrapped Oct. 20, eight weeks before its scheduled opening in 1,600 theaters across the United States. ("Tango and Cash" trailers began screening Oct. 21 in theaters showing the action movies "Next of Kin" and "Black Rain.")

Canton acknowledged that it will be a tight squeeze to get the film--"now more than 50% done"--ready for Christmas. "But 'Batman' was a great training ground for all of us," he said, noting that that Guber-Peters production was also the subject of reports of a troubled set.

A spokeswoman for Guber-Peters said that the producers would not comment because of the litigation.

When the highly regarded Soviet-born director Andrei Konchalovsky ("Runaway Train") was replaced by Albert Magnoli, who manages rock singer Prince and directed Prince's hit film "Purple Rain" for Warner, the reason for the change was given as "creative differences." Warner has consistently denied that there are further problems with the film. In fact, Canton says he sees "Tango and Cash" becoming the kind of hit that generates sequels.

Others are less sanguine.

"This was the worst-organized, most poorly prepared film I've ever been on in my life," said a veteran member of the "Tango and Cash" crew, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified. "From the first day we started, no one knew what the hell anyone was doing."

Versions differ as to why Konchalovsky decided to leave the project after nearly three months of filming.

Though there have been frequent director changes on previous Stallone films ("Rocky II," "Nighthawks," "Rhinestone" and "Rambo III"), Canton and sources on the "Tango" set insisted that the actor had nothing to do with Konchalovsky's departure.

"Sylvester Stallone had no involvement in (Konchalovsky's) decision whatsoever--zero," said Canton. Added a source close to the project, "He was just a working actor in this one."

Stallone declined to be interviewed for this story but sent a letter to The Times that proclaimed in glowing terms his support for Konchalovsky and the overall production.

"This is the most fun I've ever had on a movie," Stallone's statement read in part. "I'll be sorry when this film is over."

Sources on the set said Konchalovsky was pushed out by Guber-Peters because he was so far behind schedule that it would have been impossible to deliver the film for the Christmas deadline that the producers say was pushed up and that the studio says was always there.

Yet, soon after completing principal photography in September, replacement director Magnoli called everyone back to the set for two more weeks of shooting that sources say was necessitated by his decision to create an entirely new opening sequence.

Konchalovsky has refused to discuss his departure from "Tango and Cash." Creative differences is often the industry euphemism for a director's firing, but both Konchalovsky's agent, Martin Baum, and Warner maintain that the decision was mutual. Baum said Konchalovsky had been asked to accelerate the production schedule and that he could not live with the script changes and lost scenes that the speeded-up pace would have required.

"We hadn't quite nailed down--from a creative standpoint--some of the 'beats' we wanted in the third act," Canton said, adding that "as this (movie) got evolving," it became "too overwhelming for Andrei."

Production sources said that Konchalovsky had been given impossible scheduling demands and was then made the "scapegoat" when he fell behind.

"He found himself in over his head," said a crew member. "There were scenes scheduled for three days that were so complicated they should have been scheduled for six or seven days. They were trying to do a 22-week movie in 11 weeks."

Production manager and co-producer Larry Franco would not comment, referring inquiries to Warner.

In May, Stallone had talked hopefully about the then-pending "Tango and Cash," saying the film was "kind of like a 'Lethal Weap"

"I think moviegoers will be surprised with what we're doing with our characters," he said.

The story has Stallone playing against type. His character, Tango, is refined and articulate and wears three-piece Armani suits, glasses and a short, sleek haircut. Kurt Russell's Cash is the opposite--a slob with rumpled clothes and longish hair. Their friction intensifies when Tango thinks that Cash has slept with his sister.

The film, which was originally known as "Setup," was based on an idea of Peters' and written by Randy Feldman ("Hell Night"), who was working on other projects with Guber-Peters.

Stallone did not enter the picture until after Feldman was hired. By that time, said Canton, the studio had "abated" plans for a sequel to Stallone's 1985 film, "Cobra." "But we wanted to work with Sylvester again. We thought of him immediately (for "Tango and Cash")," he added.

The Soviet-born Konchalovsky, best known as a director of psychological character studies ("Shy People"), wasn't an obvious choice for the action drama. But his one American hit--"Runaway Train"--inspired Warner executives to tap him for "Tango and Cash," and Guber-Peters approved.

" 'Runaway Train' was exciting, as well as a performance piece," said Canton, who acknowledged that the studio envisioned a similar product from Konchalovsky. (The film earned actors Jon Voight and Eric Roberts Academy Award nominations.)

But if Konchalovsky was an odd choice, so was Magnoli, a graduate primarily of the MTV school. Besides "Purple Rain," which he directed for Warner, he has done just one other feature--the 1986 "American Anthem," which was panned by critics and ignored by moviegoers. Most recently, he directed the "Batman" video that starred Prince.

"But you should know that the 'Batman' video was an acclaimed video," said Canton, who called Magnoli "a stand-up guy who was available" to step in and direct.

Canton never had any doubt about Magnoli's ability to complete "Tango and Cash," a transition made smoother, he said, by the fact that "Purple Rain's" cameraman Donald L. Thorin was also on "Tango."

In November, during "Tango and Cash" post-production, Stallone will once again be back in the ring filming "Rocky V."

Konchalovsky is scouting locations for his next movie, "Inner Circle," which will star Thomas Hulce ("Amadeus"), and is also slated to direct a Placido Domingo opera in Los Angeles next year, according to agent Martin Baum, "so his career is fine, just fine."

That career will even include additional projects with Warner, said Canton. "We have every intention of working with him again. We will maintain a professional relationship and a courtesy with Andrei." Does this mean Canton has no regrets about what transpired? "I wouldn't want to go through it again," he admitted.

"Having done 'Batman' with Guber-Peters . . . this to me is a piece of cake."

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