Made when we were coasting through that period of Stallone’s career where he was convinced he could clear up the Cold War by either punching out the notoriously Danish Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV) or setting fire to a sizable subsection of the Russian military (Rambo III), ultra-violent action epic Cobra is Sly deciding to turn his leaden politics towards the legitimately chilling crime figures that plagued the USA at that time. The fact that this grim and incredibly violent film is actually Stallone’s answer to not being cast in Beverley Hills Cop pretty much tells you everything you need to know about where he’s coming from when mopping up murderous criminals that wander the night like drugged out ghouls – hint: the cure is unsurprisingly a 9mm lead pill flying at 1,800 MPH directly into a rapist’s brain pan.
Directed by Rambo: First Blood Part 2 director George P. Cosmatos (father of Panos Cosmatos, the director of Mandy) Cobra is an overblown 80’s action film of such little subtlety it seems less of an actual coherent movie and more of a humor-free parody of the genre in much in the same way Commando is; but where Schwarzenegger’s militaristic romp is a cartoonish joy to watch as he murders his daughter’s kidnappers consequence-free, Cobra is the flipside to that coin: a dark, ugly urban nightmare where vast swathes of the civilian population are sacrificed just so we can feel good that Stallone can save the girl at the end.
The opening shot is tailor made to make you afraid of the world that’s obviously waiting to rape and murder you the second you step outside your door as Stallone reads the horrific crime stats in a voice that sounds like he’s either about to bust a nut or that he’s dangerously constipated before firing a gun directly at the camera as if this whole mess is our fault.
Detective Marion Cobretti works the “zombie squad” in Los Angeles, which I guess means his job is to go around shooting lunatics whenever he finds them. This is immediately proved when he’s summoned to glibly take out a gibbering maniac who is holding a supermarket hostage in the name of “The New World”, a jacked up neo-facist cult who while away those long winter evenings by murdering and raping everyone they can because…. the film needs to justify Stallone blowing people away guilt-free without trial, I guess. The New World’s leader is the Night Slasher, an adamantium-jawed lunatic so permanently soaked in his own insanity sweat he must have to drink upwards of 8 gallons of water just to stay hydrated and his hobbies include taking long walks on the beach, wearing tights on his head and butchering as many people as he possibly can with a knife so scary it looks like it could fillet the shark from The Meg.
One night he’s spotted by lanky model Ingrid Knudsen and after an attempt to axe murder her into silence, she’s put under the protection of the ridiculously hard-edged Cobretti thoughtfully gets her out of the city so more people in rural areas can get killed in the crossfire instead. As the followers of The New World track them down for a showdown rotten with blades, bullets and blood, “Cobra” must prove that if crime is the disease, then he is the cure… or at least a heavily armed placebo.
So… I’d be remiss in my duties if we didn’t first address the shotgun wielding elephant in the room which is somewhat of an ironic metaphor when presented with Cobra’s problematic yet simplistic politics of simply shooting them all and let God sort them out.
Presented with the ‘roided up maniacs the film offers up to us, it’s initially hard to disagree with Stallone’s opinions; after all, if I was to meet a sweaty dude in a muscle shirt in a dark alley who also had the intense bone structure of Brian Thompson and he demanded my wallet at axe point, I’d most likely want Cobra to splatter his brains over the pavement too. However, the main problem proves to be that for Cobretti’s (and Stallone’s) politics to work, it requires literally every criminal he comes across to be a drooling, deranged lunatic with all the impulse control of a Viking bezerker with a beard full of angel dust who is caught at the scene of the crime with a blood soaked weapon clenched in his oversized mitts – no explanation is given as to what would happen if Cobretti had to do actual detective work or how he would handle things if he accidently stumbled across a lesser crime like large scale credit card fraud.
However, if you can push past these opinions (not exactly easy in these current times where excessive force in the police is a major issue), Cobra proves to be quite the fun, if fairly nasty, mindless action blaster that’s loaded with more 80’s movie tropes than you’d think humanly possible.
By far the enjoyably ridiculous thing in this whole enterprise is Cobretti himself, a ludicrous enigma made entirely of a mound of character tics and quirks that’s gained sentience and now glares out at the world through inpenetrable mirrored sunglasses. Striding around freely with his personalised gun tucked in the front of his supertight jeans (no holser for Cobra – a real man keeps his pistol next to his DICK), Cobretti openly chastises people for eating junk food when he himself has probably killed more men than heart disease and diabetes combined while permanently chewing on an unlit match as we wonder how in the hell he can afford to drive around in a supercharged ’50 Mercury that even comes complete with a customized number plate (the incredibly deuche-baggy AWSOM 50). During the action scenes (when he’s not humiliating loitering Latinos for double parking), Cobra seems to have a remarkable lack of concern for the safety of innocents as his (legitimately great) car chases and his shootouts amasses overwhelming collateral damage, yet we’re supposed to cheer when he punches a sneering peer played by Andrew Robinson (who in an act of stunning irony was the Scorpio Killer in Dirty Harry) despite him being the only voice of reason in the whole film. However the film deems this all reasonable because of Bridget Nielsen’s heavily accented damsel – and maybe that would be true if she was an endearing character (spoiler: she’s not) or if her burgeoning relationship with Cobra felt natural (spoiler: it isn’t) but she only seems to be cast because she was Stallone’s real life girlfriend at the time. Similarly Brian Thompson’s truly unsettling Night Slasher somehow has less character development or personality than Jason Vorhees despite having an entire cult at his back and call but is still a worthy opponent for our hero if only for the venomous way he spits out the word “Pig” during the final face off.
Aside from the frequent unintentionally hilarious moments such as a totally bizarre montage where Cobretti shakes down suspects while the Night Slasher gurns intensely in his hide out is intercut with Bridget Nielsen having a fashion shoot with some robots, Cobra contains some of the most heroically blatant product placement I’ve ever seen. Whether it’s Stallone nonchalantly sipping on a Coors and taking refuge behind a Pepsi machine while a madman terrorizes innocent people or it’s the massive neon Pepsi sign that’s positioned directly in front of Cobra’s fucking front door, there’s probably an incredibly dangerous drinking game just waiting to be born here.
To say that Cobra is a classic is obviously pushing it a bit, but as a morally vacuous history lesson that contains such baffling dialogue such as “Hey dirt bag, you’re a lousy shot… I hate lousy shots.” (Stallone has an Oscar nom for writing, don’t forget…), it’s tremendously entertaining for all the wrong reasons.
Cobra may be the cure… but he also seems to be the cause and the symptom too.