No Escape

 

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No Escape

Release Date: April 24, 1994

Genre: Action, Drama, Sci-Fi

Director: Martin Campbell

Writers: Richard Herley (Novel), Michael Gaylin and Joel Gross (Screenplay)

Starring: Ray Liotta, Lance Henriksen, Stuart Wilson, Ernie Hudson, Kevin Dillon

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

Wow! We’re already into the second review of 2019 (I promise I won’t be counting the number of reviews done)! For the next ‘Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review,’ we’re going back to the year 1994. During this year in cinema we had “Forest Gump.” “Pulp Fiction” and “The Shawshank Redemption” (just to name a few). Of course, those movies were mega blockbusters, and all competed for the Best Picture Award at the Oscars. 1994 also had some movies that were overlooked and turned out to be very good in this reviewer’s opinion. We’ll be reviewing one of those movies right now. This week’s review is the dystopian future action/sci-fi flick “No Escape!”

Directed by Martin Campbell, best known for making two of the best James Bond films (again in this reviewer’s opinion) “Goldeneye” and “Casino Royale,” “No Escape” is set in the year 2022 and stars Ray Liotta as John Robbins, a highly trained ex-Marine who is imprisoned for life for murdering his commanding officer. After breaking out of two Level 5 maximum security prisons he’s sent to a Level 6 facility. After holding the Warden at gunpoint in a punishment scene, Robbins is exiled to a placed called “Absolom,” island prison hundreds of miles off the main land. The island is where they send the worst prisoners to live out their days in exile. Unbeknownst, Robbins is caught in the middle of a tribal conflict between the ‘Outsiders’ who are savages that live in the jungle and are led by the sociopathic Walter Marek (Stuart Wilson) and the ‘Insiders’ who are a cooperative autonomous community living a life of peace and purpose led by a terminally ill doctor called the ‘Father’ (Lance Henriksen). Robbins assists the ‘Insiders’ repel an attack from the ‘Outsiders’ and is asked by ‘Father’ to join the community. He refuses and intends to find a way to escape Absolom even though no one has escaped the island and lived to tell about it. The rest of the supporting cast includes Ernie Hudson, Kevin Dillon, Ian McNeice and Michael Lerner.

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“No Escape” is based off the 1987 novel “The Penal Colony” by Richard Herley. The film got mixed reviews upon its released and only made $15M out of a reported $20M budget making it a flop. Just because a movie flops at the Box Office doesn’t mean it’s a complete failure. I first saw the preview for this movie back in 1994 when I was nine years old. I stumbled upon the film later in life on Netflix. When I saw it was available to stream it refreshed my memory of the preview and gave it a shot. I went into the movie with little expectations, but after watching it, I felt the movie was a rare gem. There’s so much about this movie I enjoyed. Let’s go ahead and break it down.

First is the story. It’s nothing original as you can compare it to any other prison escape film, but it merges with elements of tribalism, authoritarianism and hope to make it compelling. What makes the story fresher is how likable the good characters are despite their alleged crimes for which they are banished to the island for. It’s reminds me of a line that Tim Robbins says in “The Shawshank Redemption” when replying to Morgan Freeman’s question as to how he ended up in prison with, “I’m innocent along with everyone else here.”  The movie sets up Robbins as a detestable character for what he had done. He was a Marine who killed his superior. You don’t know the reason why a man who served his country would do such a thing to one of his own. You find out later the reason for it and you sympathize with him even if it was still the wrong thing to do.

Next is the settings. We start the movie in a giant Level 6 prison that is surrounded by an endless windstorm. The industrial cold environment sets the tension between Robbins and the Warden. When Robbins is banished to Absolom, we get this beautiful spacious island with breathtaking views and luscious jungles where you have the freedom to do what you want. The island portion of the film was shot in Queensland, Australia. It does give the audience a sense of peace, happiness and hope as they are emerged in this environment. Heck, it makes me want to join up with the ‘Insiders’ and live a peaceful life where you contribute to the community, you’re far away from civilization and you don’t have to worry about money or bills!

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Third is the acting. There are some great performances from each character. Obviously, Ray Liotta is the star of the movie. I was surprised that he would take on a role like this given his resume and that he is mostly a dramatic actor. Liotta has always played a character of some authority whether it is a law enforcement officer or a gangster.  Of course, we all know him from his iconic portrayal of Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese’s mob classic “Goodfellas.” He played this role with enthusiasm and dedication. He starts off as this cold loner with the only goal of getting off the island. As the movie progresses, so does his feelings. While he still wants to get off the island, he finds compassion among the ‘Insiders’ and confines with ‘Father’ with what he had done to land him in prison in the way a Catholic goes to a priest to confess his sins. Liotta had not only the acting chops, but the brains and stamina as many scenes where he is fighting with the ‘Outsiders’ and using instinct and the land much in a sense as Rambo to subdue his pursuers. I loved everything Ray Liotta has done, this is in my top three favorite performances of his.

Another all-time favorite actor of mine is Lance Henriksen. His performance as ‘Father’ is a natural fit for him. His namesake is that of a man carrying for his children. In this, the people of his colony are his children and must do everything in his power to protect them. Henriksen has played a diverse role of characters throughout his career. This performance has similarities to his most known role portraying the android Bishop in the “Alien” movie franchise.

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The third most notable performance of this movie goes to Stuart Wilson, who plays the antagonist Walter Marek. Stuart Wilson is not a household name, but if you’re a movie buff, you may remember him from playing other villainous roles such as playing the main villain in “Lethal Weapon 3” and one of the villains in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III!” The villain role suits him well. Marek is a sociopath who is looking to dominate all of Absolom and enslave the ‘Insiders’ under the laws of the jungle. He takes over as de facto leaders of all the jungle tribes. Wilson gives a weirdly amusing performance full of laughs, jokes and downright brutality.

 

“No Escape” has the right amount of action that it doesn’t take over the rest of the movie. There’s enough explosions and battles to keep you on the edge of your seat. There are several shots including Liotta jumping off the waterfall that would be used again in director Martin Campbell’s follow up film “Goldeneye!” Campbell is an underappreciated filmmaker. He knows how to create action movies when he’s given the chance. He is one of three directors to direct multiple installments of the James Bond series.

If you’re looking for an under the radar action/sci-fi flick, look no further than “No Escape!” I’ve said previous that this is a rare gem flick and it still is. It doesn’t need over the top action nor an over preachy story to be enjoyable. If you’re lucky to find a copy of the film online or in your local video store, it is worth the money.  It’s a perfect flick to watch on a Saturday night with a buddy or two.

 

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • Throughout the entire movie, there is not one single female character. There are only male characters.
  • The film is known in other countries as “Escape from Absolom”.
  • Filmed in Far North Queensland, Australia.
  • Ray Liotta agreed to take the lead role of Robbins, because he had always wanted to do an action movie, where he played a heroic character.
  • 400 extras played The Outsiders.
  • Most of the extras were European backpackers from local backpacking hostel’s in and around cairn’s north Queensland.
  • A special rig was set up for Ray Liotta’s stunt double, for the sequence which Robbins is shot in the neck by poison darts and falls into the water below, allowing the camera to follow the stunt performer as he falls.
  • After production was complete on the film, Martin Campbell was hired to direct the 1995 James Bond film “Goldeneye” and later, the 2006 reboot “Casino Royale”. “Goldeneye” bares some similarities with this film: The Goldeneye satellite, Bond getting shot with a tranquilizer dart, Boris Grishenko secretly working for Janus, Natalya taking over a helicopter and Alec Trevelyan falling to his death, in the hand to hand combat with Bond

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Don’t Ever Turn Your Back On Me Again

Absolom

Welcome To Paradise

Not In The Mood For An Interrogation

Wipe Your Feet

He Does That With Everyone

If You Like Roadkill

Two Shots Of Your Finest 12 Day Old

Find Forgiveness

Basket Weaving

Warden’s Dry Cleaning

No You Cannot Have My Shoes

I Thought You Were My Friend

Second Prize

We’ve Always Been About Survival

Come And Get It

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Out For Justice

 

 

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Out For Justice

Release Date: April 12, 1991

Genre: Action, Crime, Drama

Director: John Flynn

Writer: R. Lance Hill (as David Lee Henry)

Starring: Steven Seagal, William Forsythe, Jerry Orbach, Jo Champa, Shareen Mitchell

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

Whether you like Steven Seagal or your hate him, you can’t deny his accomplishments. He is a seventh degree black belt in Aikido and became the first American to teach the martial art in Japan. He’s been a Deputy Sheriff for Jefferson Parish in New Orleans for more than twenty years.  Lately, he’s been in the press as a Russian liaison to the United States and Japan working on improving relations between the countries. Of course, most of us will know Steven Seagal as an action star. Since he appeared in his first film “Above The Law” in the late 80s, Seagal has become a recognizable face in the action cinema world. He rose to fame in the early to mid-90s as a man who would always be asked who would win in a fight between him and his action peers such as Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jean Claude Van Damme. I haven’t reviewed an action movie in a while and looking through my movie collection, I noticed a bunch of Steven Seagal movies. I decided to review one but didn’t know which one I should review.  I took up an online poll to see which Steven Seagal movie I should write about. After a 24-hour survey, the overwhelming majority of votes went to his 1991 crime thriller “Out For Justice.” So, with that ladies and gentlemen, here is the review for “Out For Justice”.

Seagal plays Gino Fellino, a NYPD detective from Brooklyn where he has close connections with his neighborhood. After he and his partner Bobby Lupo are involved in a botched drug raid which leads to Gino intervening in an incident across the street where a pimp is assaulting one of his girls, Bobby is gunned down shortly after by Richie Madano, a mobster who grew up with Gino and Bobby. Richie is addicted to crack which has made him psychotic and act out on his homicidal urges which includes killing a woman at a traffic stop all because she asks him to move his car. After receiving clearance from his boss to track down and apprehend Richie, Gino uses his connections within the mob to find out where Gino is. The mob warns Gino not to get in their way, as they plan to take out Richie themselves. Gino is now in a race to find Richie and get to the truth about why he killed his partner before the mob can get his hands on him.

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The movie received mixed to negative reviews when it was first released. Despite those reviews, “Out For Justice” debut at Number 1 at the Box office and grossed a little over $40 million. As time has gone by since its initial release “Out For Justice” has developed a cult following.

The film takes place in Brooklyn and there’s plenty of moments in the film where Seagal is cruising around town talking to various citizens. Brooklyn is not like Manhattan with its giant skyscrapers, lights and exciting atmosphere. It’s a quiet and close-knit community. The movie gives it a neighborly feel as everyone seems to know each other by name. It’s a great montage to the ethnic diversity and history of Brooklyn.

Seagal is decent in his lead role as Gino, a cop with connections all over the neighborhood and uses those connections to track down Richie’s whereabouts. He also struggles with the duality of his job and his family. He has numerous “families” throughout the film. First, he has his own family in which he and his wife are going through a divorce and splitting custody of their son. Their relationship is strained in the beginning of the film but as the story progresses, they rekindle that love they have for each other and that whatever problems have been going on they can work it out and come out even stronger. The other family is his mob family. He is well known by the mob family led by Don Vittorio. Gino can easily come to him for information and have a mutual respect. The middle man between Vittorio and Gino is a man named Frank, whom also grew up with Gino in the neighborhood and become close friends. Frank keeps his eye on Gino not because his boss tells him to, but to also save him from making any mistakes that could trigger a retaliatory response.  The last families of Gino include consoling both his partner’s family and Richie’s parents. There is a powerful scene where Gino confronts Richie’s parents trying to squeeze any information they have on their son. His father, played by Dominic Chianese (Junior of “Sopranos” fame) tells the story of how he came to America with nothing and worked to provide for his family and give them a roof over their head and that Richie has been taken away from him by drugs. It gives you sympathy for the parents for what they are going through.

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The award for Best Performance in this movie I give to William Forsythe as Richie Madano. As I mentioned in the synopsis, Richie is a mafia enforcer who has become psychotic due to his addiction to crack. He is paranoid, suspicious of people and reckless. Forsythe portrays Richie as someone who has succumbed to his addictions that he can’t see straight. His crew is trapped with him and no amount of reasoning can convince Richie to control his impulses. People are fearful of Richie that they surrender to his will, especially when he shows up uninvited to the home of a girl who was once his hooker. He kills a woman in broad daylight in front of everyone when she honks the horn at him telling him to move his car and kills a friend of his in a wheelchair when he is questioned why he killed Gino’s partner and believing that he called the cops on him. His own family are fearful for their lives as you see in many instances throughout the movie. Richie Madano is a relentless character who the audience can easily despise and hopes that his day of retribution is coming.

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There’s plenty of action and violence to salivate the typical action movie fan. You can’t go wrong with shoot outs and hand to hand combat courtesy of Mr. Seagal. Seagal demonstrates his masterful Aikido skills in perhaps the best scene of the whole movie is when he interrogates Richie’s brother who owns a joint run by Richie, a bartender and its patrons. It’s amazing to see how fast Seagal’s hands move when taking down those who wish to do harm on him. Seagal is also a master sharpshooter in real life and you see that in several instances in the film including when he defends his family when members of Richie’s crew break into Gino’s apartment looking to terrorize his wife and son.

The only gripes I have with the movie is the lack of plot and character development, especially with Seagal’s family. You really don’t know what caused them to start going through divorce proceedings other than Gino’s job on the force has taken away from spending time with them. You don’t know much about Gino’s son except for his name. I also believe the title of the movie is misleading. There are also some small continuity errors due in part to the poor re-editing. Apparently this movie was even longer that dealt more with Richie and how he got into drugs, but Seagal had the Editor take a big chunk out because he felt that Forsythe was “overshadowing his great performance”. That’s why during the music montage you see a scene where Gino is talking to Frank and you don’t know what they’re saying because the audio has been drowned out by the music. The last gripe I have is with the theme of the movie. The title is “Out For Justice” but this is more of a revenge movie. Except for telling Richie’s parents that if they see him, he needs to turn himself in, his goal is to kill him, not arrest him and stand trial for the murder of his partner and other crimes he has committed. Yes, Gino is dealing with a personal tragedy, but in the real world the cops need to ascertain the suspect alive. You only kill the suspect is if he is engaged in attacking the officer.

As Steven Seagal movies go (before they went downhill starting in the late 90s), “Out For Justice” is up there among the best of his movies. This is in my Top Five Favorite Steven Seagal movies. It’s a fast-paced movie with plenty of action, violence, a balanced widescreen framing and a good cast to give it lasting appeal. It’s a movie that is relatable to the audience with its close community feel. This is perhaps the last movie where Steven Seagal is in prime form.

 

TRIVIA

  • Gino fights a character called Sticks in the bar, played by veteran martial artist Dan Inosanto. He was one of Bruce Lee’s best friends and one of the three people Bruce let train others in Jeet Kune Do. He is also a master stick fighter and has studied multiple disciplines like Escrima and Silat and was the person who taught Bruce Lee to use nunchaku.
  • According to William Forsythe, Steven Seagal told Forsythe, “You really need to work on your Brooklyn accent.” Forsythe, a Brooklyn native, replied, “Trust me, YOU do.”
  • The only Steven Seagal movie between 1988 and 1998 to not feature a single explosion.
  • Steven Seagal declared in an interview that the movie’s bar brawl was his personal favorite among all fight scenes he’s done.
  • Whilst on the production set, Steven Seagal claimed that due to his Aikido training, he was ‘immune’ to being choked unconscious. It has been alleged that at some point Gene LeBell (who was a stunt coordinator for the movie) heard about the claim and gave Seagal the opportunity to prove it. LeBell is said to have placed his arms around Seagal’s neck, and once Seagal said “go”, proceeded to choke him unconscious. After refusing to comment for many years, LeBell confirmed the story in 2012 and said that after Seagal fell unconscious, he proceeded to defecate and urinate himself. Whenever Seagal has been asked about the incident, he has constantly denied the allegations.
  • Julianna Marguiles was cast specifically by Steven Seagal for her role in this film, but she didn’t enjoy working with him at all. She later said in an interview that she used to see Seagal working on projects for Warner Brothers while she was a regular on “ER”, and he would always say “Marguiles, come over here and show me some respect”. She bluntly said, “He’s not someone I keep in contact with.”
  • The movie was originally over 30 minutes longer, which included some more plot details and character development. Steven Seagal cut some of William Forsythe’s scenes because he felt that Forsythe was upstaging him. Also, editor Michael Eliot re-edited the original cut of the movie. He did the same job with some other Warner Bros movies. Some scenes were deleted and some others were cut down for pacing. This is why there are two montage scenes with no dialogue in the finished film. Re-editing also caused some minor continuity mistakes.
  • During the filming of the showdown between Gino and Richie, Steven Seagal broke William Forsythe’s front tooth when he shoved his face into a brick wall.
  • To date, this is the only Steven Seagal movie shot in New York.
  • Steven Seagal was difficult to work with during filming. At one point, he was driven to tears on set when a light went out in his trailer. He attempted to blame the mishap on a Teamster and have him fired, but was unsuccessful.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Retrograde

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Retrograde

Release Date: January 14, 2004

Genre: Science Fiction, Action & Adventure

Director: Christopher Kulikowski

Writers: Christopher Kulikowski (Story), Tom Reeve & Gianluca Curti (Screenplay)

Starring: Dolph Lundgren, Silvia De Santis, Joe Montana, Gary Daniels, Joey Sagal

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

Before his movie career, Dolph Lundgren was a world karate champion and received his Master’s in Chemical Engineering from the University of Sydney in Australia. Shortly after his graduation he moved to New York City to become an actor. He made his film debut in a brief role in the James Bond film, “A View to a Kill.” He reached immediate stardom playing the iconic Russian champion Ivan Drago in “Rocky IV”.  Since then, Lundgren’s career has been up and down. You can still see him on the big screen in Sylvester Stallone’s “Expendable” movies, but other than that he’s appeared in more straight to video movies than another martial artist turned actor Steven Seagal. One of his films that went straight to video (with the exception of a theatrical release in South Korea) was the 2004 Sci-Fi Action film “Retrograde”.

In “Retrograde” Lundgren plays a military man from the year 2204. He is assigned with time traveling back to the year 2004 to intercept a research ship in Antarctica from obtaining a meter frozen in the ice which contains a biological agent that has wiped out the majority of mankind in his time. He soon finds out that the crew assigned to him has their own agenda for obtaining the meteor.  The research vessel named the ‘Nathaniel Palmer’ witnesses something falling from the sky (Lundgren’s ship) and goes to investigate it. They come across not only Lundgren unconscious in the snow, but they see chunks of the dangerous meteor that has been dug out of the ice due to the crash. One of the researchers obtains a piece of the meteor for research and heads back to the ship. The ship begins to experience quakes which rock the boat due to the magnetization field of the spaceship and the researcher cuts his hand on the broken glass containing the meteor. The material in the meteor mixes in with his blood and he becomes the first victim of the pathogen which sets in motion what will become of the human race in their time. Lundgren with the help of the surviving crew are now faced with containing the infected and stopping the opposing crew.

Before I go in depth with the review, I’m going to give you another disclaimer:  This is a really bad movie! There’s no question about it. Now you’re going to ask me, “If it’s a bad movie, why do you like it?” I like it for the fact that it is a bad movie and it’s a movie you can poke fun at with your friends. This is a movie that would be a great Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode. I learned about this movie through a podcast that talked about bad movies. After listening to the episode, I searched for a copy. Thanks to eBay, I purchase it for $3 (Free Shipping!). So without further ado, let’s get further analyze this film.

The film takes elements from John Carpenter’s Sci-Fi classic “The Thing”. It takes place in Antarctica, there is a crew there, there is something buried in the ice, the crew gets infected, etc. Even two of the characters are named after the surviving characters in “The Thing”. For example, one of the Geologists in the film is named Mackenzie. This is similar to MacReady, the hero of the iconic Sci-Fi flick played brilliantly by Kurt Russell. Another character in the film is named Keith. Keith David appeared in “The Thing” as Childs. Unlike the iconic film of the 80s, when a crew member gets infected you don’t get to see a massive special effect transformation. Instead, the infected start to seizure, jump up and destroy every inanimate object they come into contact with, their skin is pretty much the same color except for all the veins popping out and their eyes are the color of light blue contact lenses. All of this is due to the budget they had.

Speaking of the budget, this film was shot with a reported $2 million dollar budget. I’m sure the majority of that money went to Dolph Lundgren and his hair stylist (He has platinum blonde hair that shines bright in the dark frigid arctic). According to the Trivia (posted below), the film was shot in eighteen days, edited in about 2 weeks and mastered in one day (which I don’t see how that is possible) and it shows. Everything in the movie screams out cheap. The CGI scenes of the ship look straight out of a PC game. Other than that there’s no other special effects for a film that is supposed to be a Sci-Fi futuristic film. You would think they would have laser guns or aliens or have practical effects when a human is changing from being infected from the virus. Nope, none of that. The outfits they wear throughout the film is nothing more than motocross gear (see the Trivia). The sets are cheaply designed as you can see from the control panels on the ship which look like they tore off the front of a rotary phone. There are several scenes where you see an explosion of rock coming from Antarctica. You can easily tell that it is stock footage. You would think they would have some money in the budget to travel somewhere that is covered with snow that looks like Antarctica. I did enjoy the music. Allegedly the music was all done on a Casio Keyboard. The main theme that plays throughout the action sequences is a hum tuner and I think fits well within the concept of the movie.

With the exception of Lundgren the acting is laughably bad. The first scene in the movie is a shot of Los Angeles in the year 2204. It’s a fiery wasteland with bodies sprawled all over the streets. There is an opening narrator describing what has happened to the world in the most obvious script reading voice you could imagine. At one point in the narration it almost sounds like he ran out of breath. The next scene is a council meeting where they are briefing each other on the upcoming time traveling mission. All the characters speak in a deep voice and enunciate every syllable spoken out of their mouths.  Same with the crew of the Nathaniel Palmer. There were so many bad accents I couldn’t figure out what nationality they were from. Every person on the ship was a trope from the concerned scientist to the greedy businessman who funded the expedition. I have to give the award for Best Worst Actor goes to Joey Sagal who plays Schrader. Schrader is a businessman who funds their mission and expects to obtain a profit from their discovery. Sagal gives an angry, agitated and annoyed deadpan delivery of every line. His acting reminds me of Christian Bale’s Batman.

Going back to Dolph Lundgren’s performance, I think he did the best he could with the material and the supporting cast he was given. From his body language and tone of his speaking I could tell that he was depressed. I’m sure he was asking himself, “How did I end up in this mess?” He maintains a sense of professionalism in this movie as an experienced actor would do. The supporting cast in this film could’ve taken a lesson from Lundgren about performing.

I believe this film encompasses the theme of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review”. It’s a movie that is bad, but you can have fun watching it. You have to go into this movie with very low expectations. If you go into it with high expectations you’re going to turn it off within the first ten minutes. If you have friends over and are extremely bored and have nothing to watch, pick up “Retrograde,” share a bowl of popcorn and prepare to laugh at its goofiness.

TRIVIA

  • Filmed in only eighteen days, edited in two and half weeks and mixed in one day.

 

  • The futuristic suits the time travelers wear are actually Hein Gericke leather motorcycle pants and jackets. You can see the Hein Gericke logo on the back and on the neck line.

 

  • Gary Daniels was initially cast in the role of the lead villain, but was downgraded at the request of Dolph Lundgren.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

 

 

 

Cobra

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Release Date: May 23, 1986

Genre: Action/Adventure

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.

 

TRIVIA

  • 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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