January 31, 2011

shades + matchstick = '86 radness

It seems almost irrelevant to synopsize Sylvester Stallone’s newest film—but would you believe it, Sly plays a renegade cop who resorts to his own unorthodox methods to clear the streets of scum? And would you believe his superiors are always wringing their namby-pamby hands over such trifles as First Amendment rights?

Stallone, as he repeatedly makes obvious through the dialogue and action, has had it up to here with this innocent-until-proven-guilty nonsense. Cobra is his Dirty Harry, and he’ll take care of business—in this case, a subhuman serial killer and maniacal followers—with an arsenal of guns and grenades.

The movie, written by Stallone and directed by his Rambo collaborator George P. Cosmatos, delivers exactly what you’d expect. It’s a vehicle for violence, and the bruising pace is maintained throughout its 90-minute running time.

Cobra is the nickname for this specialty cop who deals in extreme situations. This guy drives a vintage car as oversized as himself, wears blue mirrored sunglasses, and sucks on a matchstick. You can see it right away: attitude problem.

He’s drawn into the serial-killer case when he protects the only witness (Brigitte Nielsen, Stallone’s wife and Rocky IV co-star). After she’s attacked in a hospital, he and his partner (Reni Santoni) spirit her away to a small town in rural California, which is promptly descended upon by dozens of gun-toting motorcycle-riding freaks.

At least one action sequence is okay—the opening, in which Cobra defuses a psycho in a grocery store (Psycho: “I’ll blow this whole place up!” Cobra: “Go ahead, I don’t shop here.”) Of course there are a couple of gonzo car chases, plenty of rock music, and lots of flying glass.

Equally important to Stallone (it seems) is the opportunity for pithy political commentary. He throws his unread newspaper (full of bleeding-heart editorials, no doubt) in the hibachi. He declares the court-and-jury system hopelessly civilized. And a wall photo of Ronald Reagan hangs prominently in his office.

However, the president doesn’t rate quite as high in the film’s pop iconography as Pepsi, who probably paid big bucks to have their logo turn up just about everywhere, including a huge neon sign outside Stallone’s apartment.

Most of Stallone’s hijinks are laughable enough to shrug off. But his final response to a fellow cop’s conciliatory handshake, coupled with the relentlessness of the film’s vigilante message, make Cobra a little more unpleasant than his usual.

I said that Cobra contained nothing unexpected. I correct that. Although Stallone still likes strutting his physique—he sticks his chest out a lot—he does resist the urge to take his shirt off at any time during the film. Perhaps we may view this as a significant variation in Stallone’s storytelling formula. Then again….

First published in the Herald, May 1986

You couldn’t get away from those blue mirrored sunglasses on the poster for Cobra the summer this came out. The film seems nastier and stupider than some of the other breast-thumping action pictures of the period, unleavened by humor or Chuck Norris-level cheesiness. For a good parlor game, try guessing at the actual duties of George P. Cosmatos on his Stallone vehicles.