Thursday, February 7, 2013

In short: Cobra (1986)

Marion "Cobra" Cobretti (Sylvester Stallone) polices the streets of the City with all the finesse of a bulldozer, dropping dead bodies wherever he drives his show-off car with the "AWSOM" plates (seriously), and whines about the horrors of cops having to follow the Laws they're sworn to uphold at least sometimes whenever possible. Cobretti's special talents are needed when model Ingrid Knudsen (Brigitte Nielsen) witnesses something she'll only later realize is part of the Night Slasher serial killings terrorizing the city. If anyone would listen, Ingrid's testimony would also hint at the horrible truth about the Night Slasher: the murders aren't committed by a single man but by a veritable cult of maniacs who like to spend their killing-free time rambling about "the new order" (a much better band than anything on the soundtrack) and standing somewhere underground rhythmically hitting axes against each other. What's up with that? The film ain't tellin'.

Because the cult tries to kill Ingrid, Cobretti makes it his goal to protect her with all the lethal violence he clearly relishes as much as the bad guys. Things get decidedly more difficult for him because killing is really the only thing he's good at - he just sucks at actual police work. Plus, one female cult member just happens to be a police detective (perhaps driven insane by the stupidity of her colleagues?).

Ah, the 80s, when nothing was more predictable than movie cops showing no aptitude for actual police work but a real hand at sadistic violence combined with self-righteousness and whining being held up as ultra-cool heroes. So it comes as no surprise that director George Pan Cosmatos treats Stallone's character (hilariously outfitted with everything a twelve year old thinks is cool) in Cobra as an admirable hero throughout, notwithstanding the fact that he's clearly too dumb to get a job filling out parking tickets and is pretty fucking ineffectual too boot. On the positive side, there really isn't that much time for Stallone to mumble the usual fascist platitudes (they are more used for one-liners, as when he declares "you have the right to remain silent" before he burns an already helpless cultist alive), because there are cars to crash, guns to shoot, and things to explode, and really, the film's politics are as dumbly argued as its hero is, so there's little I can take seriously enough to actually get angry about here.

Of course, it would have been nice if the script had bothered to give its hero some sort of character development from - say - cop on the edge to cop over the edge, or had provided some kind of coherent motivation for the gang/cult/political party he wipes out, but that would have meant an actual effort Stallone's script just doesn't seem willing to make. This would also have improved the film quite a bit on an emotional level, for as it stands Cobra is a movie about an asshole I don't care about fighting other assholes I don't care about. The action scenes are well done, and Cosmatos knows his mid-80s grime well, but that doesn't automatically lead to a movie worth watching.

I know, I often enough champion films here which are just as dumb, just as mean-spirited, and just as shoddily written, but these films generally have something, let's call it soul, or personality, or charm, I just don't find in Cobra.

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