Monday, April 30, 2012

Film Review: COBRA (1986, George P. Cosmatos & Sylvester Stallone)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 87 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Sylvester Stallone, Brigitte Nielsen (RED SONJA, ROCKY IV) , Andy Robinson (DIRTY HARRY, HELLRAISER), Reni Santoni (DIRTY HARRY, RAIN MAN), Art LaFleur (THE BLOB '88, TRANCERS), Val Avery (HUD, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN), David Rasche (BURN AFTER READING, HONKY TONK FREEWAY), Brian Thompson (THE TERMINATOR, FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2). Music by Sylvester Levay (SCARFACE, FLASHDANCE). Produced by Golan and Globus.  Tagline: "This is where the law stops... and I start."
Best one-liner: "Hey dirtbag, you're a lousy shot. I don't like lousy shots. You wasted a kid... for nothing. Now I think it's time to waste you!"

Ah, COBRA.  Shall I say, "Hisssssssssssssss?"  
COBRA is yet another one of those fantastic Golan-Globus actioner-shitstorms, full of jaw-dropping, spit-take inducing ludicrosities.  Originally written by Stallone to be the film BEVERLY HILLS COP, Stallone parted ways with that project, taking his script with him, and COBRA ended up as a Cannon film, directed by George P. Cosmatos, who was notorious for often allowing his stars to take hold of the directorial reins (Kurt Russell in TOMBSTONE, Stallone in RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II).  Adapted from the novel FAIR GAME (aka A RUNNING DUCK), by Paula Gosling, in terms of narrative coherence and general aesthetics,  it may as well be an adaptation of a can of King Cobra Malt Liquor.
It follows a New Order of axe-wielding maniacs as they declare war on humanity (or something), and the thin blue line between order and disorder (or should I say the thin red laser?) is Marion "Cobra" Cobretti, the battle-hardened defender of liberty whose only concrete character trait is a propensity for chewing on… matchsticks!  (Cigarettes, toothpicks, and lollipops had apparently been fully exhausted as hardass cop "mouth props.")   It's no DEATH WISH 3 or BLOODSPORT, but it is still pretty damned ridiculous, and as my friend HK Fanatic said in his excellent review, COBRA "is the point where DEATH WISH meets a Duran Duran music video."

I think we can all get behind that.  And as a quick aside, I often think of Golan-Globus films as dingy VHS classicks for the discerning B-movie lover, but in fact they were major motion pictures, in every sense of the word.  COBRA had a $15.6 million opening weekend (which was the largest of the year at that point in 1986), and played in 2,131 theaters nationwide, which was the all-time record up to that point.  Just think about that for a minute.  At that point, if I'm understanding this correctly, in all of motion picture history, from 1894 to 1986, from GONE WITH THE WIND to BEN-HUR to STAR WARS to E.T. to JAWS, COBRA was the most widely distributed new release.  COBRA was king.  All hail, King Cobra!

But above all, COBRA is instructional.  It's educational.  It's "edu-tainment."  Some have said that COBRA has no redeeming value.  I say it has many lessons to teach us, many, surprisingly, about money and how to spend it.  And how to save it, too.  I mean, Golan and Globus knew you had to spend in order to earn– that's why they paid Stallone an apparent $10 million to break with mainstream Hollywood and join the Cannon canon!  So in this time of financial uncertainty, I thought I'd share with all of you a few of the greatest lessons to be learned from within the twisty, ophidian confines of… COBRA.

#1.  Get yourself some vanity plates.  Don't worry about the cost.  Gotta let the world know that you– and the chosen few, other forty-nine guys– are "AWESOM."

#2.  So you've been called to a hostage-situation-in-progress at the local grocery store.  That's a good thing.  Didn't you see The 'Bos in STONE COLD?  Fred Williamson in BLACK COBRA 3?  Leo Fong in KILLPOINT?
Watch out for the shotgun-blasted, levitating grocery carts.  Those can be a real killer.  And what's a good grocery store hostage situation without some Ritz Crackers and 7-Up and Ding-Dongs getting blown to kingdom come?  That's what we signed up for.
And, you know, incidentally a great time to schnag yourself a free Coors is when you're in the midst of a grocery shoot-out.  Who's gonna miss it in the midst of all this pinwheeling skim milk, flyin' Tang, and gushin' Cheez Whiz?  Save a little cash for the next vanity plate, and such.  Gnawin' matches ain't free, either.
And nobody likes negotiatin' with terrorists, which is why when the villain inevitably promises to 'bring down the house,' so to speak, the best way to proceed is thusly:
How very 'Ayn-Randian' of you, Cobra!

#3.  Learnin' a lot already, right?  Here's another jewel in the crown.  So you're interested in philosophy.  Self-improvement.  The pursuit of wisdom.  You read SIDDARTHA and you want more.  Or, for some reason, you can't afford to buy books, and you've never heard of the library.  So go to a store that sells knick-knacks.  It doesn't cost anything to browse.  Grab a bobble-head doll.  Contemplate it.  Shake it, and shake your head in unison.  Look deeply into its bugged-out, painted-on eyes.  Look deeply until you see yourself.  Repeat for as long as you like, or until the proprietor tells you to buy something or leave.

#4.  COBRA will teach 'ya how to eat your pizza right. 
First off, you put on some schweet tunes.  The sort of music that might play in the background of CAPTAIN RON.  You've also got to be the kind of guy who would save just one slice of pizza; the kind of guy who'd rather punish himself with congealed leftovers than spend a dollar-fifty on somethin' fresher.  That kind of guy is Marion Cobretti.  Then you grab a carton of eggs, but you don't keep eggs in it, it's where you keep your gun cleaning supplies.  What, you think the kind of cheapskate who saves and rations his pizza crusts can afford a shoebox?  Those vanity plates aren't paying for themselves.  Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself.  So then you grab some scissors, and cut a tiny triangle off the end of your pizza.  Hey– who wants to waste a whole slice of valuable pizza?
Again, the scissors are key.  Then you save the 5/6 of the pizza you didn't cut off and stick it back in the fridge for later.  That's another meal and a half, at least. 
Then you start eating the little piece.  Don't worry about heating it up.  Heating it up would use electricity, and electricity costs money.  Money– like vanity plates– doesn't grow on trees, and neither does cold pizza.  Then you turn on the TV– man's gotta have some entertainment with his cold pizza and his gun cleaning.  But you don't just turn it on– it's all in the purposeful wrist flick.  Gotta show the remote control who's the boss.  Go ahead, rewatch the YouTube video a couple of times.  Get the flick down right.  Now eat your pizza.  Sure, it's cold.  Sure, it's Christmastime.  Enjoy your pizza.  Treat yourself.  Live a little.
I wonder how much money the Cobra makes.  He's probably suspended without pay half the year for bein' such an action-luvin' hot-dog of a cop.  Damn those liberal judges, their love of criminals, and their hatred of awesome– I mean, AWESOM– defenders of the American way! 

#5.  Gang members messing with your wheels?
Go ahead, rip their t-shirts, with extreme prejudice.  They'll respectfully leave you alone after you do that.  A package of three new white undershirts is gonna set 'em back about $5.99.  That's hittin' 'em in the wallet, Cobra!  The man does know the value of money. 

#6.  Then there's the world of fashion.  A different, high-falutin' world than the Cobra usually encounters.  Now, this is no video mash-up– this is an actual, erratically edited montage sequence from the movie.  Feast your eyes and ears:
Brigitte Nielsen, a frightening Danish supermodel, was Stallone's real-life wife at the time, and this film allowed their relationship to be consummated as... movie magic!  

So, how d'ya like your sexy ladies?  With a large side of... ROBOT FUN TIME?
It's a good thing Cobra wasn't around for this photo shoot– God knows how much they spent on the costumes and setpieces!  And look at that lavish fur coat, being wasted on a robot as Nielsen undulates in the foreground, voguin' it up!
Wait a minute, that robot in the mink is reminding me of something....  what was it...  something involving monsters that were also robots, or robots who were also monsters... let me think, what was that...
Alright, so I'm guessing that's an unintentional homage to ROBOT MONSTER, but it may still be one of the finest coincidences to pop up in all of modern cinema.

So later, you're on an 'on-the-lam' date with the supermodel at this fine dining establishment, and–
–wait one segundo, Cobra!  You're out to eat with a model, and she's the only one eating?!  Good gawd, what a tightwad– was the 85 cent portion of curly fries too cost-prohibitive?  'Hey, I got a whole 5/6 of a piece of pizza back at home– why eat out?'  And don't forget to take some complimentary mustard and ketchup in your "to-go" Ziplock baggies!  Wait, what?  You left those at home, too?  Tough break, 'Cob.  Tough break.

#7.  And, oh yeah, back to this axe-clankin' gang of lunatics, led by this guy:
Brian Thompson, the Klaus Kinski of Cannon Films.  His cult is dedicated to hanging out in abandoned warehouses and clanking axes together amid dramatic lighting.  It's all about the symmetry.  Gotta look good.
Then there's this poor guy, off in the corner, clanking together his regular sized axe with a tiny hatchet. 
Look at 'im.  Ashamed.  Trying to hide in the shadows at the edge of the frame.  This is what the whole movie's really about.  This guy couldn't afford two big axes.  And you know why?  He tossed out a perfectly good piece of leftover pizza once.  He never took advantage of the little freebies that life sometimes offers up; whether it be Coors or condiments or whatever else.  He may have at one point assembled a budget on a spreadsheet, but by God, he didn't stick to it.  He didn't come up with a grocery plan, and then he ate takeout altogether too often.  He bought things he couldn't afford, and then his credit rating got all out-of-whack.  They'd cancelled his card before it was time to buy all the axes, and thus he got stuck with this wimpy little jobbie, pictured above.  Go ahead and cower in the corner, you fiscally irresponsible cultist!  Go ahead and wait for a bailout...    

#8.   So your buddy's all beat up after the final action setpiece.  He's been on this bizarro diet throughout, which has been a source of nearly-amusing, Cannon Films-style comic relief.  Anyway, he's getting loaded into the ambulance, and he says–
You'd kill for some... gummy bears?  "Yo, well who's gonna pay for them?  Me?"

I feel like I learned a lot, and I hope you did, too.  Now if you'll pardon me, I'm going to make sure that my finances are in order.  Four stars.

-Sean Gill

PS– I apologize for any formatting errors.  This new Blogger set-up is killing me and my ancient internet browser.


J.D. said...

"Brian Thompson, the Klaus Kinski of Cannon Films."

Hah. That's awesome and true. I always appreciate MIRACLE MILE for having the balls to cast Thompson against type in a good guy role! Too bad he has very little screen time but still.

Oh yeah, and another fine performance of his - MOON 44 with none other than Michael Pare. Also a pretty good role for him where he starts off playing a dick but then kinda redeems himself by the film's end.

Ah, what to say about COBRA? One of the many Cannon action films I watched on VHS with friends during my misspent youth. So wonderfully cheesy that you forget, as you point out, that this was a major release and not some direct to video hack work. But that's the way things were during the '80s. How else do you explain Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme?

This film also reminds me of Brigitte Nielson's brief fling with the mainstream between this film and BEVERLY HILLS COP 2. Now, she's reduced to doing wacky stints on reality TV. Ah, how the uh, mighty have fallen?

Awesome review as always. Makes me actually want to watch this film again. It has been many many years.

Roderick Heath said...

Oh yes, this piece is great work. I've only seen Cobra once, alas, many many years ago on TV where it was so heavily edited I'm still not sure exactly what happened to the bad guy at the end.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Junta, hard to believe this was supposed to be Beverly Hills Cop. Dodged a bullet there.
"Jaw-dropping, spit-take inducing ludicrosities." LOL

Mike B. said...

Nice! I dig the angle on this review, it helps liven up a film that honestly seems a lot less fun than a lot of the classic Cannons. I've probably seen Cobra a good dozen times, but it's always come off dull to me. I always zone out and I still have no idea what the axe-gang's motivation is. That's good background info, too, and might help explain why I struggle with the film; it does seem like a Golan-Globus mercenary effort, bringing in Sly as a cash cow to fund their more Cannon-esque projects (kinda like the when the Criterion DVD company released an edition of The Rock and/or Armageddon). I'm also glad you pointed out the Stone Cold symmetry. Even when I was like twelve I saw Stone Cold and thought, sheesh, what a rip-off of Cobra. The director must have been all "so we'll start with a grocery standoff, then move swiftly to an oddball breakfast situation, where we'll have the Boz make himself a gross-ass smoothie." Then somebody probably said, "Hey, isn't that a little too close to what happened in Cobra?" To which the reply could only have been "Nah, it's OK because the Boz will be standing next to a gila monster at the time." What a fascinating time that was!

Sean Gill said...

I never saw MOON 44, but now that I see it co-stars Malcolm McDowell as well, my interest is piqued.
And ah, Brigitte Nielsen. It's not like ROCKY IV and COBRA are of the finest pedigree, but her in FLAVOR OF LOVE and SNOWBOARD ACADEMY and the like does kinda depress me a little bit.

Thank you, sir! And the disorienting editing in this case may not have even been censorship, but could very well be chalked up to the fact that COBRA is one of the most erratically edited pictures I've ever seen.

Though, who knows, maybe in the alternative universe where this was actually made as BEVERLY HILLS COP... Eddie Murphy became a Cannon Films star?

Mike B.,
Glad you enjoyed. COBRA's general air of incoherence and men clanking axes together for seemingly no reason certainly can mar the viewing experience for some, and, in fact, it says a lot that STONE COLD presents a more complete, cohesive narrative. And what a wonderful parallel with the oddball breakfast situation– the Boz's gila monster or komodo dragon or whatever highlights a tremendous fault in COBRA– why didn't Stallone's character have a pet... COBRA?!!

Jack Thursby said...

For me Cobra is like the "Spinal Tap" of action movies. Everything is so unnecessarily turned up to 11. Did he really need to impale Brian Thompson on a hook and burn him alive? That's pretty messed up when you think about it.

Sean Gill said...

Well said, Jack. And Cannon Films sort of specialized in having multiple, unnecessary death scenes for the villains that involved meat hooks (this, KICKBOXER, and CYBORG are coming to mind offhand).