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Monday, June 1, 2015

Cobra (1986) review

COBRA 1986

Sylvester Stallone (Marion "Cobra" Cobretti), Brigitte Nielsen (Ingrid), Reni Santoni (Sergeant Gonzalez), Andrew Robinson (Detective Monte), Brian Thompson (Night Slasher), John Herzfeld (Cho), Lee Garlington (Nancy Stalk), Art LeFleur (Captain Sears)

Directed by George P. Cosmatos

The Short Version: Often feeling like an Italian version of DIRTY HARRY, but made in America, this aggressively nasty Cannon film (directed by an Italian) portrays Stallone as an urban Rambo doing battle with a bizarre gang of slasher killers who take survival of the fittest to murderous extremes. They even perform a 'Radio Ga-Ga' type ritual before going out to slaughter random people with axes and knives. The darkest, most uncompromisingly brutal movie on Stallone's resume, COBRA has a nasty bite that leaves you both disturbed and breathless over the course of its 90 uncomfortable minutes.

Marion "Cobra" Cobretti is the tough cop cure for the disease-riddled criminal element in Los Angeles. Particularly grim are a gang of 'New World Order' types who take the quote, 'only the strong survive' so seriously, they spend their evenings slaughtering random people with axes and knives to thin the herd of humanity. A young model named Ingrid witnesses one of their nightly kill sessions, and it's up to the unorthodox Cobretti to protect her.

Stallone gets Dirty in his own version of Eastwood's iconic policeman. Based, perplexingly enough, on British crime writer Paula Gosling's novel, 'A Running Duck' (released here as 'Fair Game' and adapted again in the 1995 film of the same name), Stallone more or less did away with the source material and wrote his own version of Gosling's book--transforming it into a DIRTY HARRY (1971) movie not starring Clint Eastwood. Reportedly, portions of the COBRA script was the basis for Stallone's aborted version of BEVERLY HILLS COP (1984). COBRA was so different from the Gosling source, that Warner Books wanted to re-release it as 'Cobra', but Stallone refused to use his likeness since the book was not his version. Why not just novelize Stallone's script? Instead of Gosling's 'Nam vet sniper working for the San Francisco PD, it's a maverick cop from LA, who, like his 70s antecedent, has his own remarkably similar playbook.

If you've seen the Eastwood movies, you know what to expect here. It's so close to Callahan, you'd think COBRA was an Italian bandwagon movie made in America. The Callahan connection continues with the participation of Scorpio himself, Andy Robinson, as the asshole detective Monte. Stallone went totally overboard with everything in his script, successfully turning Robinson into an even bigger asshole than the similar characters in the 70s Eastwood favorites. There's also Reni Santoni who played Harry's partner in the original movie. He plays Cobretti's junk food loving partner in this '86 assimilation. Stallone meticulously recreates a great deal of what was seen in the first three DH pictures, maximizing the amount of violence to the point the hero is turned into a caricature and the movie into a twisted sort of parody of action movie conventions; and one with the sleaziest tone of any such picture.

Unlike Callahan, Cobretti isn't all that mouthy. He's more the strong silent type, but prone to an abundance of 80s Action Hero one-liners. Stallone's script gets so carried away with the quips that it becomes almost immediately clear that Cobretti has nothing of substance to say. This means little since his Colt .45 and laser scope Jatimatic Sub-machine gun do most of the talking. It's the action and violence that are the major selling point of COBRA.... 

....And this selling point proved to be troublesome to the film obtaining an 'R' rating. Some 30 minutes were removed, losing a lot of exposition the picture needed; and a lot of sadistic violence that earned the film an 'X' rating got slashed. This, too, doesn't matter much as, despite being conspicuously choppy in its current version, COBRA succeeds in being as horrific as some horror movies.

For example, director Cosmatos induces an incredible amount of dread during the opening credits sequence. Sylvester Levay's musical score is constantly oppressing the viewer with apocalyptic tones not normally associated with cop thrillers. This being the 1980s, it wouldn't be the same without some rock-metal tracks accompanying the symphonic assault. On two occasions, the movie halts its doom and gloom atmosphere, and for a few minutes, the story is told via something resembling an MTV music video. One of these musically enhanced sequences is generously padded with shots of Stallone's then wife, co-star Brigitte Nielsen (as Ingrid, the model) dressed (or barely dressed) in an assortment of outfits while posing with robot set decorations. Unfortunately, Levay's electric guitar piece, 'Skyline' was among the casualties of the re-editing process.

Regarding music videos, COBRA is mostly a visual experience. Stallone barely gives his characters any motivation or emotional attachment with the audience. What little plot there is is an amalgamation of the aforementioned DIRTY HARRY films. This lack of a cohesive storyline results from drastic cutting, and Stallone's fondness for big action set pieces. It would be beneficial to see the picture with all its footage put back in at some point. If nothing else, in its present form, COBRA is definitely a visceral, gut-shredding movie.

The action and stunt work is nothing short of amazing. Terry Leonard and his team manage some stunning pieces of action; highlights being a wildly chaotic car chase and the siege at the end preceding the finish in the foundry. This is one of the few differences with the Dirty Harry franchise--in those films, the action was more dangerously intimate. The smaller scale usage of guns in those movies made you more aware of their presence, even fearful of them. There were no massive explosions, or whole city blocks obliterated, and scores of villains turned into Swiss cheese. It's not a bad thing, but the more restrained scenes of violence involving Callahan resonate more than the 'kill everything that moves' attitude of COBRA where it's so exaggerated you become desensitized to it. 

As Marion Cobretti, Stallone gives his character a bunch of colorful quirks, but none of them manage to make him very appealing. He cracks open a beer during a tense grocery store hold-up, has the design of a cobra on the grips of his Colt pistols, and cuts pizza slices in half with scissors. He's basically an urban Rambo--he talks about as much, but never gets quite as impassioned as Rambo. Stallone also writes Cobretti as some sort of outcast, even more despised than Callahan. His superiors treat him like he's at the bottom of some sort of social hierarchy. Cobretti is basically a grubby exterminator who is reluctantly called in when a roach problem gets a little too out of hand. Which brings us to....

Brian Thompson is gifted with one of the finest faces for villainy ever conceived. The man looks like he stepped right out of a comic book; and considering COBRA's overblown style, he couldn't have picked a better major bad guy role as The Night Slasher, the leader of a merry band of butchers. In the movie (at least this truncated form), it's not entirely clear who the killers are. There's never a name attributed to them; only that they have no intentions of allowing the meek to inherit the Earth, adhering to a 'survival of the fittest' mantra. Every night they go out and slash, hack, and mutilate random victims in a cultish enactment of natural selection. You never learn this much till the very end when Thompson delivers a grim monologue that recalls a similar one spouted by Gene Davis during the closing moments of 10 TO MIDNIGHT (1983). It's also here that the aura of horror returns inside a foundry with smoke, steam, and fire engulfing the surroundings. It's the film begins like a nightmare and ends like one.

The last scene wraps things up nicely as Cobretti, after making amends with Monte via his fist (in the same fashion as Peter Weller did with Meg Foster at the end of Cosmatos's LEVIATHAN), rides off with Ingrid on a motorcycle as the anthem rock of John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band's 'Voice of America's Son' rolls out over the end credits.

Most of the big guns of 80s Action did a horror oriented actioner--Norris with SILENT RAGE (1982), Bronson with 10 TO MIDNIGHT (1983); and Eastwood even implemented horror into the narrative of Callahan's last in THE DEAD POOL (1988). Of these, COBRA is arguably the most stylish. It's not a particularly good movie, but it's damn efficient in its ability to give its audience an adrenaline rush for nearly 90 minutes. Try and put the comparisons to Eastwood's signature cop out of your mind and you'll have a thrilling good time with Stallone's ultra-violent, emotionally vapid clone.

This review is representative of the Warner Blu-ray. Extras and specs:1080p anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1; commentary with director George P. Cosmatos; vintage Making Of featurette; original theatrical trailer.

1 comment:

Franco Macabro said...

One of my favorite action films from the 80's, I also got the Dirty Harry connection, I noticed it right away when they also give Cobra a Latino sidekick in the form of Sargeant Gonzalez, same as Dirty Harry's 'chico', actually, he's the same actor as you mentioned. Basically, this is an 80's version of Dirty Harry, tougher, grittier and with an ever bigger dose of testosterone, which of course results in a hilarious movie. That scene where he gets home and takes out a cold pizza, cuts it with scissors, while still wearing his leather gloves and shades is bust a gut hilarious! Love this movie, also for its explosive over the top chase sequence and action!

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