Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In short: Cobra Mission (1986)

Four Vietnam veterans (Christopher Connelly, John Steiner, Manfred Lehmann and Oliver Tobias) have enough of being disrespected by random drunks and/or their families. What would lead to a drunken bender, a bar fight or a divorce for most people soon finds the quartet being convinced by their former commanding officer (played by the cameoing Enzo G. Castellari, who'd probably have made a more exciting film had he directed this one) to return to Vietnam and rescue some of those legendary US prisoners of war the Italian film industry cares deeply about.

After further cameos by Luciano Pigozzi/Alan Collins, and Donald Pleasence as a mad, commie-eating Catholic priest, our guys are armed to the teeth and on their way through the jungle.

Surprisingly enough, they even manage to find and free a handful of prisoners, but finding and freeing and actually rescuing them turn out to be quite different things, because The Man turns out to be totally evil, you know.

I have often read that Fabrizio De Angelis' Cobra Mission is supposed to be one of the better Italian rambosploitation (or is it explodinghutsploitation?) movies, but I can't say I agree with that assessment. Sure, the lead actors have have held their creased visages into cameras pretending to be real macho men in a few hundred of these films and are kind of good at their job. Yes, the cameos and small parts for people like Pleasence, Pigozzi, Gordon Mitchell, or Ethan Wayne are nearly as nice a thing to have on screen as having good old friends as dinner guests. And of course there are exploding huts and Filipinos pretending to be Vietnamese dying in various ridiculous poses aplenty.

But unfortunately, Cobra Mission falls into one of the saddest traps a vietnamsploitation film can fall into: it's neither mad and viscerally exciting enough to delight as a cheap piece of crap, nor good enough at being earnest and po-faced to work even vaguely as the message movie it likes to pretend it is between the shouting and the shooting. The film's message movie parts are also of the unpleasantly jingoistic "bring our boys back home (even if we Italians don't have any boys there)" variant, with a mild helping of racism, which does not help to endear them or Cobra Mission to me.

From time to time, the jingoism and the racism is unexpectedly interrupted by sudden moments of relativism that show (some of) our heroes' enemies as actual human beings with actual human motivations, moments in which the film also seems on the cusp of developing a consciousness of said heroes being utter jerks. If the film had developed these elements further, Cobra Mission could have become something quite special, but the film's admittance of complexity never goes all the way, and so the next piece of right wing whining is never far away, while the action is never good (or silly) enough to make up for it.


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