Release Date: May 23, 1986
Director: George P. Comatose
Writers: Paula Gosling (Novel: ‘Fair Game’), Sylvester Stallone (Screenplay)
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Brigitte Nielsen, Reni Santoni , Art LaFleur, Brian Thompson, Andrew Robinson
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Ahhh the 80! The decade that gave birth of the blockbuster action movie genre. The world was introduced to such action starts as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Steven Sea gal and of course Sylvester Stallone (even though he was introduced to us in 1976 with ‘Rocky’). By the time 1986 came around, Stall one’s career was bubble waiting to burst. That burst happened with ‘Cobra’. Despite its worldwide gross of $160 million (as of today according to Wikipedia) it was universally panned by critics due to its level of violence, poor dialogue and an uninspiring villain. People will argue today that Cobra is a movie that has stood the test of time when it comes to an Action movie whereas others see the movie as completely dated and wouldn’t watch unless they were tied to a chair and had their eyelids close pinned to their brows so they couldn’t shut them. I have to say that ‘Cobra’ is one of my all time guilty pleasure movies. I can watch this over and over again with my hand slapping my knee at the delivery of the corny dialogue or be sitting up straight with my head stretched out and tensed during the big chase sequence.
For those who’ve never seen ‘Cobra’, the plot is pretty simple. Stallone plays Marion Cobretti aka the Cobra, who is a member of the LAPD’s ‘Zombie Squad’, a squad of elite cops. The tagline to describe the cops is, “Crime is a disease, meet the cure!”. He is tasked with stopping the Night Slasher, a serial killer who is the leader of an underground gang dubbed ‘The New World’. Their mission is to “kill the weak, so the strong survive.” One night, supermodel Ingrid Knusden (played by Stallone’s wife at the time and model herself, Brigitte Nielsen) witnesses the Night Slasher killing an innocent bystander and thus becomes a target for his next kill. The Night Slasher attempts to kill her in an altercation in a parking lot where Ingrid just finished a photo shoot, but is able to hide and survive. She goes to the LAPD where they are able to make a sketch of the suspect and check Ingird into the hospital for observation. After a failed attempt by the Night Slasher to kill Ingrid at the hospital, she goes into witness protection with Cobretti being the bodyguard. During their time in hiding, they begin to get quite acquainted and end up becoming attracted to each other. Without going into further detail of spoilers, it all leads to a showdown between Cobra and the Night Slasher with some comical back and forth between the two.
The concept of ‘Cobra’ came from Sylvester Stallone. I didn’t know this until I read the history, but Stallone was the original choice to play Axel Foley in ‘Beverly Hills Cop’. He wrote a treatment for the film and submitted it to Warner Bros. The studio rejected it because they felt the type of film that Stallone wanted to do was going to be too costly. Stallone kept some of the ideas from his treatment and pulled elements from Paula Gosling’s novel ‘Fair Game’ (which was later turned into a 1995 movie starring Cindy Crawford and William Baldwin that failed miserably) and wrote the film that you see today.
I can’t recall the first time I saw ‘Cobra’, but I do recall that I wasn’t very fond of it. I found it a little boring and I thought the performances were pretty one dimension. I found a DVD copy of the film many moons ago at a local video shop. I was on an action movie high at the time and started collection a bunch of Sylvester Stallone movies and the movie was only $2 so I said to myself, “What the hey, I’ll give it another chance!” I purchased the DVD and went home that evening and re-watched it. I still found the performances to be one dimensional and stereotypical, but something inside me was enjoying the movie. Maybe it had to do with I wasn’t taking the movie as serious as I did when I first watched it. After several more viewings I found this movie to be enjoyable. It may not be the best action movie and it may not be Stallone’s finest performance, but to me it’s fun and funny. It’s a movie that tries to take itself seriously, but it’s hard to take it seriously.
Sylvester Stallone’s performance can be wooden at times, but he can express a sensitive side to his rough image and aggressive police style. This is shown throughout the movie with his relationship with his partner, Gonzales. Cobra is vocal several times about how bad Gonzales’ sugar diet is and is always recommending him to change his eating habits, even going as far as recommending healthier snacks to eat. He is just as sensitive to Ingrid and opens up to her when she asks him why he doesn’t have a woman in his life. His answer speaks true to his character.
Reni Santori plays Cobra’s partner Sgt. Gonzales. Gonzales is stuck to Cobra like glue. They have great chemistry together and you know that he will always have Cobra’s back which is shown during the climax of the film. Santori is no stranger to playing this kind of role. He also played Clint Eastwood’s partner in ‘Dirty Harry’. The film has much homage to ‘Dirty Harry’ that I don’t think Santori needed a lot of preparation for his role.
Brian Thompson plays the Night Slasher. Although he doesn’t have many speaking lines, it’s his physicality and body language that frightens the audience. He portrays the character as an animal stalking his prey. You see shots throughout the movie of him shifting his eyes and quickly moving his head being mindful of his surroundings. He walks slowly towards the prey almost like an old cartoon character when you seem them tiptoe out of a situation. He uses stealth to get close to his victim and then strikes without warning with the curved bladed knife with spikes sticking on the outside (kudos to knife designer Herman Schneider).
Lastly, there’s Brigitte Nielsen, who plays the role of Ingrid, the only witness to get a visual look on the Night Stalker. Obviously Nielsen got the role due to her marriage to Stallone. She doesn’t offer much except for her yelling and screaming. For someone who just went through a violent ordeal with the Night Slasher in the parking lot, she doesn’t seemed emotionally distraught. It’s almost as if it never happened. I don’t know if that was her intention to shut it out as a lot of trauma victims do, but it seems she was ready to get off the hospital table and go back home. It doesn’t matter who played this role. You could get Jane Seymour and she would plays this role exactly as Nielsen did.
One of things that ‘Cobra’ does well is address some of the issues during the time including the decay of urban society, police brutality and the rise of criminal gangs. The movie takes place in Los Angeles at a time when crime was rampant and you had Skid Row where law enforcement at the time was beginning to crack down on the homeless population from sleeping on the streets. During a sequence where Cobra is going around the city trying to get information about the Night Slasher, you see shots of homeless people, prostitutes, drifters and slackers. When you watch the opening credits to the film you see a gathering of people from all walks of life You see street thugs , men in business suits and if you pay close attention, you can see a few law enforcement offices as they bang their axes together in a sign of unity. Their purpose is a playbook taken from the concept of Social Darwinism, “Survival of the fittest”. They kill anyone they deemed weak or unfit for society. That is a credit to director George P. Costmatos. Cosmatos did a decent job considering what he had to work with and the difficult relationship he had with Stallone despite them working together previously in ‘Rambo: First Blood Part II’. Cosmatos is a hit/miss director. He’s made some flops, but he has also made one of the best Western films to come out in the 90s and that is ‘Tombstone’. I’ve enjoyed the films that he has created even if they are blatant rip-offs of other movies (Hint: This will be the only movie of his I’ll be reviewingJ)
From the law enforcement side of the film, you have Stallone who is a cop who takes the law into his own hands and he battles internally with his supervisors who still believe in upholding law. You see a trope very quickly in the movie with the constant battle between Stallone and Andrew Robinson, the ‘by the book’ detective who gets the chance to chime his two cents into Cobra during every encounter and berate him for his tactics and demeanor. Every cop film always has a cop going head to head with a superior.
Perhaps the fun theme of the film if there is one is the product placement. It was all about advertising and marketing in the 80s. You see that in the beginning confrontation in the film where Cobra is hiding behind a Pepsi machine and sees right in front of him a stack of Coors. He opens a tall room temperature one and takes a sip. As he runs away, the psycho shoots at the Coors can and then the Pepsi logo (Possible stand against advertising?). When Cobra returns to his apartment and turns on the TV, the first ad that appears is a Toys R Us add Another over the head shot when Cobra is back at his apartment is a lit-up Pepsi sign that is a source of light for him. When they stop on the way to the safe house, Gonzales gets a drink from the Coca Cola vending machine. Finally, in the bar scene, there is a huge Miller Genuine Draft sign. I’m sure these companies helped pay for the film to get their ads spread across.
There’s just enough action to satisfy the appetite of the action movie fan. The action is all too familiar as you see in action movies time after time, but there are a few standout moments. One of them being the final death scene. I won’t spoil that for you. There are enough explosions, guys getting thrown off motorcycles and even orange trees on fire. Oh and you can’t forget about that great 80s soundtrack that is blasted through the segments of the movie. Robert Tepper’s ‘Angels in the City’ that is played during weaving segments of Cobretti talking to his connections looking for information, Ingrid’s photo shoot and the Night Slasher’s endless pursuit of her shows the power that music had during this period. Lastly, there’s the dialogue. Yes, the dialogue in this movie is a trope unto itself. It’s cheesy and schlocky, but you’ll get some laughs out of it. There are some hilarious quotes in the film which will be posted at the end of this review that were delivered with a deadpan style courtesy of Mr. Stallone.
Again ‘Cobra’ is not one of Stallone’s best action movies. It’s memorable in its own way. It’s a good popcorn flick you can watch with your friends, laugh together and make fun of if that is your cup of tea. If you’re looking for an action movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, then check it out.
- A very rare work print of the movie is available amongst fans. Although most copies are in poor quality, it has approximately 30 to 40 minutes of footage including all the X rated material that was removed from the final cut.
- The custom 1950 Mercury driven by Cobretti in the film was owned by Sylvester Stallone. The studio produced stunt doubles of the car for use in some of the action sequences.
- At one point during filming, Sylvester Stallone complained to cinematographer Ric Waite that they were falling behind and that he and his crew needed to work harder. Waite responded by saying, “Maybe if Stallone gets his hands off Brigitte Nielsen’s ass and stops showing off to his bodyguards, maybe they wouldn’t have problems with time!”
- None of the supporting cast or crew were allowed to talk to Sylvester Stallone during filming.
- In the original script, Night Slasher was called Abaddon.
- For the Night Slasher’s monologue in the final confrontation, Brian Thompson did the scene with the script girl because Sylvester Stallone was off watching a basketball game on television.
- When the movie came out Sylvester Stallone allegedly wanted the novel ‘Fair Game’ reissued with himself credited as the author, however original author Paula Gosling intervened and it never materialized.
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