Wow, this movie is a mess. But at least it's a fun mess to watch. "Cobra" is simultaneously an attempt at a vanity project for Stallone and his then-wife Bridgette Nielson, a rough adaptation of Paula Gosling's novel "Fair Game," and a slick 80's action thriller - "Dirty Harry" for the "Me generation." And it fails spectacularly at all of them.
Stallone and Nielson - not exactly the hottest couple of the 80's
First of all, Stallone cobbled together the script from the left-over ideas he had for "Beverly Hills Cop." Yeah, Stallone was originally going to be in "Beverly Hills Cop" before it was an all-out comedy, but Paramount thought his screenplay would cost too much money. Stallone turned that script into "Cobra," which makes me wonder why he even bothered to pay the rights for Gosling's novel (which was later turned into a movie AGAIN in the 90's, with the epically awful duo of William Baldwin and Cindy Crawford).
Now you would think that Stallone reuniting with "Rambo: First Blood II" director George P. Cosmatos for a more urban action flick would be a surefire bet, but considering that the cinematic style of this movie has more in common with "Over the Top" and "Staying Alive" than any "Rambo" flick, I'm inclined to believe that Stallone ghost-directed the movie himself.
When investigating a crime scene, it's important to always
look good in a part of tight-ass blue jeans
I mean, the whole thing is edited like a music video. There's a scene when Cobra and his partner go to shake down information by visiting the seediest parts of, uh, Santa Monica (yeah). The director, whoever he was, chose to intercut these scenes of Stallone visiting neon-lit sex shops and darkened alleys with shots of Bridgette Nielson in ridiculous 80's garb, posing with a fake robot in some kind of ridiculous future-chic photoshoot.
Now you could say that "Oh, here the auteur is choosing to contrast the harsh reality of life on the streets with the sleek, superficial world of fashion." But considering how *out of nowhere* and seemingly random the editing in this movie is, it feels more like your dog stepped on the remote and flipped the TV back to some cable show in the middle of you watching "Cobra." It doesn't help that every scene in the film is scored to bland, ultra-generic pop music with your standard 80's lyrics about "working too hard" or "feeling the heat."
Check out Stallone's wardrobe in this movie. He seems to take a page from Chow Yun Fat: dark coats, ridiculously large black sunglasses, a matchstick always hanging precariously out of his mouth (in place of a toothpick). Except, of course, Stallone is nowhere near as bad-ass as "The Killer" in this flick. Sure, he may take down criminals with a laser-sighted machine gun but he also delivers lines like, "Hey, you got a life preserver on ya? Cause I think your french fries are drownin' in that catsup." Ugh…even when he's supposed to be a LA cop with a license to kill, Stallone seems unable to play anything other than a lovable idiot.
"Hey, yo, uh, you got tha right to remain, uh, dead, yo."
At the epicenter of this film is actor Brian Thompson, a hulking…hulk of a man, perhaps best known for his role as the Alien Bounty Hunter on "The X-Files." This is another standout part for Thompson, where he gets to be big, mean, and scary…but he also has a speaking part! At first I was like "Wait a minute, something doesn't look right about him" - but don't worry, later on he slicks his hair completely back just like on "The X-Files," so all is well with the world.
It's just unfortunate that the plot/subplot (I can't tell, maybe you can) Thompson is involved with makes absolutely no sense. Well, that's not true. It COULD have made sense, had the screenplay bothered to flesh out just what the hell Thompson and his cronies are up to. But it leaves everything to the imagination.
Fans love Brian Thompson precisely because he scares the shit out of us
See, Thompson playas the leader of an underground cult in the Los Angeles/Santa Monica area. There are frequent shots of dozens of people in some undisclosed location, literally clanking axes together. We never actually visit this set during the movie! Now in these scenes, the cult looks like they're made up of a bunch of yuppies - there's even a guy in a suit, and later one of the cult members is revealed to be a cop.
When we see Thompson and a few of his followers go out at night, dressed in black and driving a beat-up van as they look for a few young single women to butcher, you figure - oh, okay. It's a bunch of detached yuppies looking to get their rocks off by slashing up women. But then there's all this talk about Thompson starting "a new world order." Is it a new order of people who are so disconnected from reality that they get sick pleasure from murder? Okay, maybe. I guess that makes sense, especially if they're yuppies.
But during the climax of the movie, when Thompson and the entire cult go after Stallone, they're just a giant BIKER GANG. You know - black leather, blue jeans, Harley Davidsons. Huh?! I don't get it - WHO the hell is in this cult and what new world order are they awaiting?! People usually argue that the book is better than the movie but "Cobra" might be a case where reading the book is necessary just to grasp what the hell the movie is actually about.
Stallone wages a one-man war against Hell's Angels during the climax of "Cobra"
Here's some of Thompson's dialogue at the end of the film, see if you can piece it together. Thankfully, Thompson gives such a good performance that you overlook the plot holes regarding his character. He also calls Stallone a "pig" nearly 20 times during their final battle in a foundry.
THOMPSON: You want to go to hell? Huh, pig? You want to go to hell with me? It doesn't matter, does it? We are the hunters. We kill the weak so the strong survive. You can't stop the New World. Your filthy society will never get rid of people like us. It's breeding them! WE ARE THE FUTURE!
Yikes. If you can make heads or tails of that little monologue in the context of "Cobra," please leave a comment and let me know! Now Wikipedia claims that this Order is "a group of supremacists who believe in killing the weak and leaving only the strongest and themselves to live and rule the world," which is all well and good, except I have NO IDEA how they would actually derive that from the movie itself. You shouldn't have to use the novel, or even the novelization of the movie, to reference plot details that the film conveniently leaves out!
This is the face you make when even YOU don't understand the plot of your movie
"Cobra" was produced by the wonderful duo of Golan-Globus, who were responsible for many fine films like "Bloodsport" and the "Death Wish" sequels. These guys seem like a natural fit for Stallone but I can't say that "Cobra" is one of their best efforts. The movie is filled with a lot of action sequences but they're surprisingly bloodless. Stallone shoots over 30 people, at least, during the end but you never see a drop of blood.
Even when Thompson and his cult are out carving up their victims in scenes that are clearly a nod to slasher movies, the camera always cuts away before anything gruesome can be shown. I don't get it - you've got an "R"-rating, why don't you run with it?
THIS is what fans want to see!
Hopefully "The Expendables" will deliver on the bloody action
The Golan-Globus boys were never known for throwing their punches so the lack of genuine impact to the violence here is surprising. I think this, more than anything - even more than Bridgette Nielson delivering a performance not unlike Tommy Wiseau's ("The Room") little sister - is what makes "Cobra" a disappointment for me. This is a hardcore Stallone action flick - just look at the cover! - I want some blood, man!
Oh well, at least there's a pretty awesome car chase where Stallone gets to use some nitrous oxide. Oh, but be warned that by 1987 Golan-Globus were starting to bleed money so this movie is FILLED to the brim with product placement for Pepsi, Coke, Miller High Life, and Coors. Actually, I could go for a High Life right about now…
Stallone hauls ass in the Cobra-mobile to pick up some High Life
Now I mentioned "Cobra" in my review of "Tango & Cash" as being a movie that is borderline fascist - and that's being kind. When I take into consideration that Stallone wrote the screenplay and focus on Stallone's delivery itself, I have to take all of Cobra's lines at face value and interpret them as being Stallone's actual opinion.
And let me tell you, Cobra's opinion is that criminals are a disease; that judges are limp-wristed liberal pansies who let killers and rapists off with a slap on the wrist; that most police officers (or at least the ones who wear suits) are too half-hearted to deliver the punishment that criminals deserve; and the best form of justice for people who shoot up grocery stores is a bullet fired from a (laser-sighted) machine gun. Ladies and gentlemen: welcome to the Eighties.
"It's the eighties/do lots of coke/and vote for Ronald Reagan!"
They just don't make these kinds of urban crime-conscious movies anymore (see also: my review for "Death Wish 3"). That's probably because Reagan isn't still in office, but still - "Cobra" is one of the most vicious and mean "criminals are trash who deserve to die" flicks around. The problem is, the villains in this movie are so over the top and cartoony - again, yuppies who clank axes together in some mysterious underground lair - that its point about real street crime is totally lost. Combined with the cornball music and editing throughout the film, "Cobra" isn't so much an action movie with a message as it is the point where "Death Wish" meets a Duran Duran music video.