Principal Cast : Sylvester Stallone, Brigitte Nielsen, Reni Santoni, Andrew Robinson, Brian Thompson, John Herzfeld, Lee Garlington, Art LeFleur, Marco Rodriguez, Ross St Phillip, Val Avery, Dan Rasche.
Synopsis: A tough-on-crime street cop must protect the only surviving witness to a strange murderous cult with far-reaching plans.
As a child who grew up in the 80’s, I can safely say that few modern stars have the sheer screen charisma to overcome a abyss of acting talent quite like Sylvester Stallone. In his heyday he was the prime screen icon, alongside Schwarzenegger (with whom he had a long-runing feud), Emilio Estevez, and Eddie Murphy, male performers who rose to prominence more on looks and attitude than dramatic ability. Stallone’s early work in the Rocky franchise endeared him to a legion of pugilism fanatics, but it was his decade-long heel-turn to bonkers action cinema, with the Rambo franchise, Lock Up and Tango & Cash, as well as George P Cosmatos’ Cobra, that cemented him as a legitimate titan of the action genre, and a cool-as-hell figurehead for impressionable young kids who watched his films back in the day. Cobra isn’t a particularly good movie, heck it sidesteps being poor and hoofs easily into terrible quite quickly, but if you’re ever in the mood for a take-no-shit kinda cop, a violent, stupidly inane plot involving a serial killing cult, and a hot-as-hell Brigitte Nielsen as your damsel in distress, look no further than this outright cult classic from the peak of Stallone’s powers.
Exploding with subgenre tropes and preposterous contrivance, not to mention lame as hell acting and full-throated subtext on the price of modern policing, Cobra is as dumb as they come. Edited like an orgiastic arthouse indie film and bulging with Stallone’s mirror-glasses panache, the film’s blood-soaked action set-pieces are clunky as hell today, but back then…? Hell, machine guns, sawn-off shotguns, grenades, and a heck of a scary knife wielded by the Slasher (Brian Thompson, perfectly cast I might add), and a legion of faceless motorcycle riding henchmen to slaughter, Cobra the character packs a mean punch and elicits squeals of glee from the cult following this film has attained in the decades since. Sure, it’s all over the top, and the script is essentially a stew of hoary old clichés and well-worn archetypes of the genre, but watching Stallone protect Nielsen from imminent death in such profoundly violent ways has always been a satiating experience in catharsis. I know, butchering so many menacing henchmen without flinching is perhaps entirely un-PC these days, but the fact that I can vicariously live through Cobra’s actions is liberating as a viewer.
Amazingly, Stallone and co-star Nielsen were married at the time this film came out in 1986 (their wedded bliss lasted almost exactly 18 months in total) and their screen chemistry together is… well, woeful. I’ve seen two trees with more romantic tension than these two. They had met on the set of Rocky IV the year prior, and would break up by mid 1987; another interesting facet of Cobra is that it continues Stallone’s love affair with robots – Sico in Rocky IV was emulated by a lengthy photo-shoot for Nielsen and a bunch of hyper-futuristic robotic figures in-film for Cobra. It’s a weird moment in this film, and offers nothing, either tonally or plot-wise. Wrap up the enormous body-count and the listless plot, seemingly indestructible Bad Guy and several inept police chiefs and Cobra was always fighting an uphill battle with sanity – his and ours. That the film remains as popularly entertaining today is more to do with Stallone’s no-fucks-given attitude and Cosmatos’ batshit insane direction, none of which makes a lick of sense but works in spite of itself. An unadulterated cult classic.