George P. Cosmatos
Sylvester Stallone - Lieutenant Marion 'Cobra' Cobretti
Brigitte Nielsen - Ingrid Knudsen
Reni Santoni - Sergeant Tony Gonzales
Andrew Robinson - Detective Monte
Brian Thompson - The Night Slasher
Lee Garlington - Nancy Stalk
Art LaFleur - Captain Sears
Genre - Action/Thriller/Slasher
Running Time - 87 Minutes
Random killings have been happening, to which the media has nicknamed the killer (Brian Thompson) "The Night Slasher". A cynical police lieutenant named Marion Cobretti, aka Cobra (Sylvester Stallone), is a member of the Zombie Squad - a unit of officers that take on the toughest and dangerous jobs other cops refuse to do. Although Detective Monte (Andrew Robinson) wants things done on the up-and-up, Cobra wants to break some rules to catch the culprit. When a model, Ingrid Knudsen (Brigitte Nielsen), is a witness to one of the Night Slasher's crimes, Cobra decides to protect her, hoping the Night Slasher makes himself known so Cobra can strike.
Since this is 80's September, you knew I had to discuss the action genre of the decade. Big explosions, gory violence, and cool one-liners were the tropes for most action films of the 1980's. There were many action stars during this period - Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren, and so on. One of the more popular action stars was Academy Award nominated actor/writer/director Sylvester Stallone. While Stallone was mostly successful for his ROCKY and RAMBO films, Stallone did manage to dabble in other lesser-known works. One of these is 1986's COBRA - a Golan & Globus production for Cannon Films that, despite being number one at the domestic box office in its opening weekend, was considered a flop for Stallone until international numbers proved otherwise. COBRA isn't one of the action genre's finest works technical and narrative wise. But it has a certain charm that makes it one of the most watchable action films of the 1980's.
Let me get it out of the way: COBRA is a terrible movie. Despite the rating I'll eventually give it, COBRA really is a piece of crap in so many ways. This is a film that is void of plot, character development, acting, common sense, and other things a decent film would possess. Yet, it still manages to be a fun time. Why is the Night Slasher killing people? Why does he have an army? Why does Cobra eat pizza with scissors? Why does Cobra grill his newspaper? Why does Ingrid's hair change in every major scene? And how does one man kill a bunch of bad dudes, but none of these dudes can hit Cobra during a gun fight? It makes no lick of sense and deserves to be found at the bottom of a barrel. But the film has this weird charm about it that just makes it so entertaining and memorable.
The screenplay, written by Sylvester Stallone, was adapted from Paula Gosling's novel, Fair Game - which also became its own film in 1995 with William Baldwin and Cindy Crawford. While both films are crap, at least COBRA is unintentionally funny at times and has some good action going for it. What I wrote in the plot synopsis is pretty much the entire film summed up. The Night Slasher and his crew are just bizarre. We don't really know their motives to their murders, other than they do it because they despise the current state of society and consider themselves hunters. I don't know what that even means, but I guess we'll go with it. The attraction between Cobra and Ingrid comes out of nowhere, not feeling natural at all. I couldn't buy that these two were into each other, and they were MARRIED IN REAL LIFE!
And the dialogue... wow.
Supermarket Killer: "Get back! I got a bomb here! I'll blow this whole place up!"
Cobra: "Go ahead. I don't shop here."
(points gun at Supermarket Killer)
Cobra: "You're the disease, and I'm the cure."
Night Slasher: "The court is civilized, isn't it pig?"
Cobra: "But I'm not. This is where the law stops and I start - sucker!"
There are more of these gems in the film. The thought of anyone in real life speaking to someone like this just makes me laugh. Oh COBRA...
The biggest theme behind COBRA is this political agenda that pretty much question the idea of justice in 1980's America. Apparently, Stallone felt that courts felt that police officers were too easy on the criminals they were hunting, as well as this insane idea that the media took to criminals and serial killers as heroes and/or victims. While the glorification of serial killers may be true, does the media really treat them as victims? There's one scene in the first act of the film where reporters criticize Cobra for killing a man who pretty much murdered people and took hostages inside of a supermarket. In what world would this actually happen?? Now if the supposed suspect was unarmed or there was evidence that he wasn't doing anything wrong, then sure. But the man had witnesses who saw him shoot people and attempt to bomb the place. And the cop is the bad guy??? And the police captain has issue with Cobra for DOING HIS FUCKING JOB! I can't believe Stallone actually wrote that shit in there because it makes no sense. While it's true that police brutality exists and unfortunate circumstances happen to innocent people believed guilty, it makes no sense within this context when the cop was actually a hero and the killer was actually a violent psychopath. It's not sounding smart. It's looking like a total idiot in this case.
I also found it funny that the Night Slasher hunted down Ingrid because she saw him and some of his crew killing a woman inside a car while she drove by. I get that he would want to get rid of her to protect his identity. But this dude and his crew went WAY far and beyond. They found her license plate, knew where she worked, what room in a hospital she was admitted to, and a whole bunch of information. While it's probably not implausible, it just felt like they targeted this woman for more than just accidentally driving past them. It wasn't like she got all that good of a look anyway! It was a funny sub-plot, but baffling at the same time.
At least the action is pretty solid, thanks to director George P. Cosmatos. The opening scene within the supermarket is one of the more memorable action set-pieces of the 1980s. It's pretty humorous, but at the same time, very well done in terms of shots, location, and pacing. There's also a great action scene in the middle of the film that's probably 10-15 minutes long, where Cobra is being chased down by the Night Slasher's crew in a car. He drives one-handed while shooting a machine gun in the other. There are a lot of explosions, people getting shot to shit, and some nice stunt driving with 180 handbrake turns that are pretty thrilling to watch. I also love that Cosmatos adds a slasher flick type of vibe to some of the scenes, especially where it concerns Ingrid. When Ingrid is recuperating at the hospital and the Night Slasher, in disguise, stalks and attempts to kill her, there is some nice tension and suspense going on. It's a dark, gritty action film that blends into the horror genre at times, making COBRA an interesting film in the decade of excess. Say what you want about the script, but Cosmatos direction and immaculate use of every action film trope you can think of [this film pretty much has them all in play here] is some good stuff.
The acting is better than expected. Sylvester Stallone has done better work before and since COBRA, but he's pretty chill as the DIRTY HARRY [ironically both Andrew Robinson and Reni Santoni were in that very film in 1971] wannabe badass cop. I'm sure critics took his monotone, stoic delivery as an actor who didn't give a crap about this role or this film. But something about it makes the Cobra character cooler, with Stallone only using facial expressions and body language to convey messages whenever he's not uttering a one-liner. Sly's then-wife, Brigitte Nielsen, is pretty terrible in this though. Not like she was a good actress to begin with, as she was hired for her looks. But I was more interested in her hair style than what she was going to do or say. That's not good. Reni Santoni is pretty funny as Gonzales, Cobra's partner. Santoni had great buddy-cop chemistry with Sly. Brian Thompson, looking scary as usual, is pretty good as the Night Slasher. He doesn't say a whole lot until the end, but the man has a chilling presence about him. Andrew Robinson plays the asshole captain perfectly. Besides Nielsen, the cast isn't half-bad at all.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE DRIVING MY "AWSOM 50" CAR
- "You're the disease. And I'm the cure." Cobra is the penicillin of police officers.
- Detective Monte didn't want Cobra to investigate this latest string of serial killings. I guess that's why Jesus wept...
- Ingrid's photographer wanted to have sex with her. Unless his name was Sly or Flavor, he was out of luck.
- The Night Slasher murdered some of the hospital staff in order to stalk and kill Ingrid. Nice to see Haddonfield Memorial hadn't changed much in the 8 years since the last massacre.
- Cobra carries a bunch of grenades wherever he goes. Surprisingly, none of them were from the Jersey Shore.
- Cobra showed some MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION when he defeated the Night Slasher at the end. What a weak, pathetic fool. All too easy.
THE FINAL HOWL
There are two ways of looking at COBRA. You can either hate it for taking itself seriously, realizing that the screenplay is stupid and its an 87-minute action cliche wrapped in misguided statements about police officers and the justice system that don't work within the film's story. Or you can love it for its one-liners, entertaining action and acting, and AWSOM 50 soundtrack cheese. While I do feel the political agenda of the film was a mistake, I pretty much dig COBRA for everything else. It's a terrible film that will never bore you with its unintentional comedy and silly premise that blends action and slasher film elements pretty well. It's funny, violent, well paced, and has a lot of charm that most films these days would die for. While COBRA isn't a disease or a cure, it'll definitely sooth the pain away for a while.
Robert Tepper - "Angel of the City"