Cobra / 1986
87 minutes (according to imdb.com, some European cuts of the movie put it under 80 minutes!)
dir: George P. Cosmatos
screenplay: Sylvester Stallone
starring: Sylvester Stallone, Brigitte Nielsen, Reni Santoni, Brian Thompson
Cobra begins with Sylvester Stallone, as no-holds-barred bad motherfucker renegade Los Angeles cop Marion “Cobra” Cobretti, telling the audience how dire crime in America has become. Burglaries every eleven seconds. “250 rapes a day,” he says. Chilling claims, especially in the first minute of a movie. But the oddly serious tone of the opening sequence is quickly abandoned, making way for some of the most excellent, silliest one-liners in Stallone history.
“Go ahead, I don’t shop here,” to a man threatening to blow up the grocery store he’s taken hostage.
The classic, “You’re the disease…and I’m the cure,” just before throwing a knife and pumping six bullets in to the chest of the grocery terrorist, propelling him on to the meat counter.
“This is where the law stops and I start…sucker,” to the leader of a supremacist murder cult just before their final showdown.
To a smoking “Latino” punk who touched his car: “That’s bad for your health, y’know.”
Punk: “What is, pinche?”
Cobra: “Me.” Cobra grabs the cigarette from his mouth, rips his shirt, and tells him to clean up his act.
Sure, why not!
Some of the greatest pleasures of this movie come from imagining Sly sitting at his typewriter, picking the perfect spots in the story to place such witticisms. I was quickly reminded as I made that joke (several times) that he also wrote Rocky. The difference here, though, is that between Rocky and Cobra, Stallone turned into a bankable megastar. In the lead-up to getting Rocky made, the man really didn’t have much else going for him – there are a handful of reasons why that is a classic film, and one is that Stallone was putting his heart and soul into it. Cobra is a ton of shit blowing up and people being murdered/committing murder at completely frantic pace.
But therein lies one of the charms of the film: its unabashed disregard for rules and guidelines of all sorts, both in the world of the film, and in the practice of filmmaking. Cobra performs his duties as a police officer in a completely irresponsible manner – but goddamn if he doesn’t get the job done, and with gusto. And the writing and direction of Cobra is marred with holes and nonsensical turns. For example, the existence aforementioned supremacist murder cult – from which the primary villain of the film, the Night Slasher, emerges – is never completely explained; the audience is meant to assume that bad people have fallen into some sort of cult and are now doing bad things. And we do, because there’s really no sense in questioning it.
Similarly, why Cobra acts the way he does never becomes the issue that one might expect it to; his superiors don’t always agree with the way he tends to kill suspects, but they know he’s a mighty good cop. And you just can’t fuck with steady productivity. On top of that, there are a handful of traits that, one would imagine, were meant to bolster the character’s defiant image that are left alone entirely – chewing a match stick; wearing large mirrored sunglasses; attempting to eat healthy, because too much junk food can make you “violent”; having an illustration of a cobra on the grip of the semi-automatic handgun that he just tucks into the front of his pants because, apparently, rebels just don’t believe in holsters. I’d say let’s see how rebellious he is after he accidentally blows his nuts off, but it was probably a moot point the second Stallone put the ink on the page. In Cobra, things just are, and must be accepted as such.
In this sense, it is totally unlike Quiet Cool, the subject of my last entry. The characters in that movie have almost no defining features. They just kind of float through the scenery as the forest explodes around them. In fact, the attempts to explain their backgrounds are ridiculous and confusing, as if the writers forgot that “character development” is a real thing while they were writing it and just popped it in there after the fact. The stars of Cobra, however, are practically overloaded with unique characteristics. It’s almost as if Stallone started with them and worked backwards…
Needless to say (and by now, it really ought to be clear) this movie rules. Some sick car chases, so many explosions, Stallone’s then-wife Brigitte Nielsen looking totally fine and being constantly in distress, a freakishly high number of rounds of ammunition fired in public places – that’s a recipe for fun if I ever read one. But then, just as a deliciously sweet little cherry top on, Cobra chooses to set the law aside at the end of the movie and straight-up murders the Night Slasher by popping him on an industrial hook in a steel mill and setting him on fire. And if you didn’t think that could get any cooler: that’s not even the first person he sets on fire in that scene.
While I briefly Internet-researched Cobra, I found that the concept for it originated from Stallone’s wish to turn the comedy Beverly Hills Cop, in which he was set to star, into a balls-out action movie. The idea was not met kindly by producers.