So once again we have survived.

Cobra

COBRA is not a great Stallone movie, but Stallone does play a cop named Marion “THE COBRA” Cobretti, and in this crazy world that’s gotta count for something. In the opening scene a ranting maniac goes into a super market, kills a bunch of people and takes the rest hostage. The police are helpless so they “call in the Cobra.”

Cobretti struts in wearing sunglasses and chewing on a matchstick. You’d think he’d want to have the full power of vision at his disposal in a situation like this, but he chooses fashion instead – not a great character trait for a human being, but acceptable for an action movie hero. If you want to get picky Dirty Harry probaly should’ve put down his hot dog to foil that bank robbery, but he didn’t, and we admire him for that.

CobraSpeaking of Dirty Harry, Cobretti wishes he was Dirty Harry. This movie is a total ripoff of that one. But visually Cobretti reminds me of another action movie icon: HARD BOILED’s Tequila, with his sunglasses and toothpick. That must be why when I first heard of Chow Yun Fat they said he was “the Stallone of Hong Kong.” People still remembered COBRA back then, I guess. They look kind of the same, but Cobretti has a picture of a cobra on the pearl handle of his gun, while Tequila doesn’t have a picture of tequila. Tequila is still a better character in a way better movie, but Cobretti’s cobra insignia just edges him into the realm of acceptability. Congratulations, Cobretti.

The movie is stylishly directed by George Pan Cosmatos, same guy who did RAMBO a year earlier. He uses what was probaly called “MTV style” back then, lots of quick flashes edited to the rhythm of music (hey, what’s that robot? Hey, there’s that robot again. Why is there a robot?) but unlike modern asshole editors he respects the audience enough to build to a shot that explains what the quick flashes were all about (oh, I see, there is a fashion shoot in front of a robot). The opening is completely badass, with the Cobra firing an animated bullet into the camera, which explodes into the title of the movie. Meanwhile a psychopath rides a motorcycle silhouetted on a bright red sky, and this is intercut with shots of a bunch of crazy musclemen in a sewer doing some sort of workout or ritual involving axes. This was in those days of ’85-’87 when movies like POLICE ACADEMY 2 and DRAGNET worried that some weird gang of punk rocker cultists would terrorize urban areas (at least those movies are comedies, though, this is a serious movie).

When I saw the motorcycle I first thought it was Cobra and when I saw the sewer I thought this was gonna be Stallone’s PUNISHER. But nope, he’s a Dirty Harry wannabe, a tough envelope-pushing cop constantly frustrated by all these bureaucrats and regulations that are so hung up on all this “accountability” and “checks and balances” and “system of American justice” and what not. You know how they are. The sergeant is played by Dirty Harry’s partner Reni Santoni and the pain in the ass pansy boss is Andrew Robinson, who was Scorpio in DIRTY HARRY. So the killer that we gotta break the rules to catch is now the guy telling us not to break the rules. THE SYSTEM IS BROKEN! CALL IN THE COBRA!

But Cobra doesn’t have just one Scorpio to catch, he has “the Night Slasher” which is actually the collaborative work of those ax maniacs in the sewer, crazed bodybuilding enthusiasts like Brian Thompson trying to bring a “new world” of mayhem and chaos. Demon Dave could be a member. Brigitte Nielsen (looking more like Kelly LeBrock than the Grace Jones type I remember her as) plays a super model who witnesses a killing and becomes their target. So the Cobra ends up protecting her, and various action happens.

Cobretti drives an old Mercury with a license plate that says some variation of “AWESOME” on it, which was probaly pretty awesome at the time. There’s a pretty good car chase, one of those ones where they’re going up and down little hills and start to get air, and at one point the Cobramobile actually catches so much air it scrapes across a hanging sign and shoots sparks everywhere.

Another good part is when Cobretti impales the villain on a hook, Leatherface style, and rolls him into a smelting plant. So there’s plenty of good stuff here, but it doesn’t add anything very new to the DIRTY HARRY formula, and it’s definitely not as good as DIRTY HARRY, so it doesn’t really overcome the paranoid politics. When Cobra comes out of the super market and a prickish reporter starts asking him pesky questions about what gives him the right to just kill people instead of using the ol’ due process, the movie is pushing it. We already had that conversation in the ’70s, Cobretti. Why don’t you go watch MAGNUM FORCE.

Notes: Before Eddie Murphy was cast in BEVERLY HILLS COP it was gonna be Stallone, and he was rewriting the script. That didn’t work out so he used some of those ideas for COBRA. Also, COBRA was based on a book originally called A RUNNING DUCK that was later made into the movie FAIR GAME starring Billy Baldwin and Cindy Crawford.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 11th, 2007 at 11:23 pm and is filed under Action, Crime, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

47 Responses to “Cobra”

  1. This movie is hilarious, and the director’s commentary track on the DVD is classic. George P. Cosmatos spends most of the time talking about all the product placement he worked into the movie to try and get free stuff. If I remember correctly he was really disappointed that he did not receive any free gummy bears in exchange for working them into some shots in the film. Seriously, it is one of the all time great unintentionally funny director’s commentary tracks.

  2. I saw it again recently. To the fans, I’m sorry but the character loses all traces of bad-assness once he’s at home chilling to the sounds of Gloria Estefan and The Miami Sound Machine.

  3. onthewall- That is just bad ass juxtaposition at work.

  4. I really like this movie. I put it COMMANDO-adjacent in terms of ridiculous 80s action movies. So many weird touches to Stallone’s character, like how he stores his gun-cleaning equipment in an egg carton and cuts his pizza with scissors. And yes, his taste in music. They couldn’t decide on a cop-on-the-edge signifier so they went with all of them; Sunglasses, toothpick, muscle car with vanity plane and custom paint job, awesome gun with laser sight and cobras emblazoned on everything. They went so far with his badass credentials that it goes from awesome to lame and then back to awesome again. It’s like the guy with the mullet and the wolf t-shirt; he’s badass because you know he don’t give a fuck.

    I particularly like the axe cult. It’s not just the usual assortment of multi-ethnic gang members, there’s bodybuilders and bikers and punks and guys in business suits, all hanging out in a sewer or a refinery or whatever and clanking their axes together while Brian Thompson rants about a New World Order. Looks like a lot of fun.

  5. COBRA is certainly a movie worth dissecting. One of the documentaries on THE EXPENDABLES 2 dealt with the 80´s action movie phenomenon and some of the film historians that were interviewed put out the hypothesis/theory that a lot of the manliness of the actionflicks of the 80´s dealt with male insecurity of the times.

    And that brings us to the question of the diet of action hereos. Cobra cuts up his pizzas with a scissors. He does not care about health, just as Norris is being freaked out by his beer being tossed in the trashbin in LONE WOLF MQUADE( sadly I was one of the neanderthals who was upset by that) and how all this that would play into a blue collar audience. It is pretty interesting how these small things could have been part of catering to a contemporary audience unsecure about the current times.

  6. Lets not forget that he goes by Cobra because he’s insecure about his real first name, Marion.

    There’s definitely an 80s action movie trend equating manliness with shitty diets and an unhealthy lifestyle. Which is weird, because you know those actors are on insanely strict diets and workout regimens. I think the Action Hero Diet reached its nadir in END OF DAYS, where Arnold has a pizza, beer and Pepto Bizmol smoothie for breakfast.

    Honestly though, as enjoyable as this movie is I think it’s central politics ring pretty hollow. I think they just wanted to make an exaggerated version of DIRTY HARRY; I don’t get the feeling that they were burning with rage about all the bureaucratic red tape preventing police from impaling criminals on hooks and incinerating them in furnaces.

  7. There is certainly a discrepancy between the diet the action heroes consumes and their actual physical condition. But it might fit in with the current ideals. They were supposed to be blue collar heroes, they could not just look like slobs. It is ridiculous, but part of the fun now.

  8. That poster for Cobra was one of my iconic bedroom wall posters in the mid 80’s. Along with Rambo, Pale Rider and a door size colour print of a naked Samantha Fox. You know, because of her powerful weapons.

  9. The way Cobra kills the bad guy at the end is beyond sadistic. I found it genuinely disturbing. And then he walks outside and punches his superior in the face, and the chief, who witnessed the whole thing, immediately smiles and offers him a ride home, like its not big deal, fuck that guy. I kind of loved it.

  10. I don’t think I could ever get tired of watching COBRA. It’s on the short list of “Fuck it, let’s just watch _____ again” movies that I can pop in pretty much anytime. I think what I like about it (besides the fact that it is empirically awesome) is that it’s like four or five movies in one. It starts out DIRTY HARRY, turns into HALLOWEEN II for a while, switches to TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. for the car chase, segues into THE ROAD WARRIOR, and ends as THE TERMINATOR. It’s the poo poo platter of eighties action ridiculousness.

  11. Man, I’d agree with you 100%. I had never seen it until a few weeks ago, but my buddy and I were totally blown away by it and mad that we had waited ’til our 30s to start that shit up. I was even getting a bit of a Drive vibe off some of the cinematography, I’d bet anything Nicolas Winding Refn watched this shit before he made that one. The Friedkin influence is pretty heavy, too, To Live and Die in LA especially, although I doubt too many would argue that he’s a bit more of an “artist” than George Cosmatos. Either way, fuckin excellent movie

  12. I had to just give myself a pep talk and list all of the 80s action movies I actually do like because I started to question whether I belonged here. I tried to watch this movie a few weeks ago for the first time and rolled my eyes so hard when they said “Call in the Cobra,” that I gave myself an instant headache. I tried to stream it from Amazon and there was an issue with my network at the time and it wasn’t streaming very well. I only made it past the opening, grocery store scene before I got pissed and turned it off. The getting pissed was about my network issues, not the movie. Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood, but what little I saw did not make me sad to have to turn it off. I’ll have to try adjusting my expectations and give it another shot.

  13. Recently re-watched George P Cosmatos’ TOMBSTONE, the directors cut, for the first time in the 20 years since it came out. And it’s a godawful mess of a movie. It had a lot of good things going for it with the casting, and it could have been something special, if a huge chunk of story was removed, like the limp-dick never-even-gets-to-first-base romance between Wyatt Earp and the theatre actress. How can you fuck up a movie with Russell, Sam Elliot and Bill Paxton as the Earps, and Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, Stephen Lang, Robert John Burke, Thomas Haden Church and Michael Henry Rooker as the villains?

    I heard Cosmatos was called in to replace Kevin Jarre, who was fired from directing duties, and who also wrote the script. It felt like they were trying to pack too much into the story, trying to please everyone. There was a little bit of LAST OF THE MOHICANS in there, with the stupid romance thing, and a bit of UNFORGIVEN with the Hell Is Coming To Town third act when Wyatt goes on a rampage after a brother dies. But so inconsistent and unevenly told.

    My biggest problem was Russell’s character Earp. He and his brothers come to town looking to make their fortune, leaving their law-keeping days behind them. The mayor and other officials want the Earps to help regulate the gang problems, Wyatt says no, but stands up to the saloon bully Billy Bob Thornton (in one of the few great scenes) by bitch-slapping him several times before saying “Do something. Or are you just gonna stand there and bleed?” But later on, when Curly Bill (Boothe) is shooting up the town, Wyatt stays inside and lets an old man go out to confront him. After the old man gets shot down, only then does Wyatt act. I also didn’t like the way he treated his wife, running off to be with the actress, to then come home and parrot the actresses dreams and aspirations to his wife, as though he didn’t have a mind of his own. Isn’t this guy mean’t to be tough lawman Wyatt Earp? No balls.

    The two best things in TOMBSTONE are Kilmer as Doc and his black-mirror nemesis Biehn as Johnny Ringo. I’d forgotten how good Biehn was in this. He does evil really fucking well. Notice his predatory, unblinking eyes when he and Doc first meet in the saloon. Of course Doc shows him up, makes a fool of him with the gun-twirling/cup-twirling thing, but not before they’ve verbally sparred in Latin, validating each others education, before Doc cuts him down to size with ridicule.

    Some of the violence was pretty brutal, lot’s of shots in the face and head. I was grateful for that Cosmatos flourish (as sick as that makes me sound – but it’s all about the little things). The final duel between Kilmer and Biehn was an especially nasty little piece, with a single shot administered by Doc to Ringo’s temple, causing him to die in a twitchy spasm, like he’d been lobotomized. Too bad the rest of the movie had it’s brain removed.

  14. What a relief. I thought I was the only one who never really liked TOMBSTONE. It’s got a ton of great moments but there’s like an hour in the middle that I seem to be physically unable to pay attention to.

  15. I think TOMBSTONE coasted on the zeitgeist luxury of being the more liked of the two Earp films of that year. Time hasn’t been kind to it, though. Which makes me wonder if Kasdans film has been unjustly underappreciated? Don’t know if I’m willing to give up 3 plus hours to find out.

  16. I’m pretty sure TOMBSTONE only caught on after playing on basic cable 40,000 times. It’s the perfect movie for that kind of thing, because you can jump in at any time and catch somebody awesome saying or doing something cool. It’s a lot better like that than trying to watch the whole thing all the way through.

  17. I’m afraid I have to strongly disagree with both of you. I think TOMBSTONE’s a great western. And more important – and I guess it’s the reason you find the actions of the main characters strange at times, Darren – this is the TRUE story. This is what actually happened.

  18. I never quite understood the worship of TOMBSTONE either. But I think Darren points to a lot of things in the film which I have not been consciously aware of before. It was just something in the back of my head I couldn´t quite grasp. Good job, Darren.

  19. I can’t say that I’m a “worshipper”, but I do think it’s a good action-western. A lot better than the overrated WYATT EARP. And you have to give cudos to a movie about Wyatt Earp that has a relative of his in the cast – actor…wait for it, Wyatt Earp.

  20. I liked WYATT EARP (and don’t get how it’s overrated since it’s not really known now for much, aside from being the movie that prevented Michael Madsen from doing PULP FICTION). I’ll go as far as to say that I liked Dennis Quaid’s Doc Holliday more than Kilmer’s.

  21. I just meant that it got a lot better reviews at the time.

  22. I love TOMBSTONE. There’s not one moment of it that I find boring. I don’t think I’ve seen the director’s cut, so I can’t say how that one is different. Sometimes director’s cuts aren’t better. Sometimes there’s a reason to trim the fat.

    I’ve not seen WYATT EARP, so I can’t honestly compare the two performances of Doc Holliday, but I can’t imagine a better performance than Kilmer.

  23. pegsman, I liked the way they made the gunfight at the OK Corral to be more or less a slaughter. Not some heroic standoff. They played it like the Earps acted out of fear, and caught those couple of Cowboys off guard. I could believe thats how it really went down.

  24. There’s so much awesome shit in TOMBSTONE that it just doesn’t compute with me that I don’t really care for it. That’s why I try again every five years or so, thinking this’ll be the time it connects with me. Then I start drifting off like 45 minutes in and never really come back.

    What are you gonna do? The same thing happens with me and BLADE RUNNER. I’m not proud of it but that’s the way it us.

  25. I always liked the theatrical cut of TOMBSTONE. Or I guess we should call it the Russell cut since Kurt Russell did a lot of ghost directing on that movie. It has a good swift pace. I think it actually benefits from not being as pretentious and self absorbed as WYATT EARP was.

    I do prefer Dennis Quaid as Doc Holliday over Val Kilmer though. However Kilmer was in the more entertaining movie. I like TOMBSTONE because it has no pretenses of being more than it actually is. It’s the definition of a fun time at the movies.

    The Costner/Kasdan movie has a lot of flaws a lot more noticeable ones anyway. Mostly because it was too self conscious for its own good. Its too concerned with being the next epic Kevin Costner Western. Instead of being more concerned with being a more balanced movie.

    It is style over substance more often than not. Features awesome scenery, great production values amazing cinematography it’s also serviceably directed.

    That’s also why it drags too much and all things considered with the Wyatt Earp story I think it’s wiser to go with the ensemble approach. Instead of the more singular story that it ended up as. Lack of a filter destroyed the movie the script became a bloated mess. The movie feels very disjointed at times. I still do enjoy it I think overall that was a good era for westerns. Clint decided to come back to the Western genre and after that went well everybody decided to copy and make their own violent Western with heavy thematic shit. I mean I remember we had POSSE around the same time. I’m surprised TRUE GRIT didn’t really inspire that type of resurgence a couple of years back.

  26. I’m the same way Mr. M is with BLADE RUNNER though. Truthfully the only Ridley Scott that ever really clicked with me was ALIEN. That is one of the most perfect movies ever.

    Everything else though even the more recent last decade stuff I do enjoy (BLACK HAWK DOWN, GLADIATOR, MATCHSTICK MEN) just feels kind of hollow by comparison. They are technically well made films but they don’t feel enough like movies to really move me if that makes any sense.

    They are too mechanical for their own good and the characters just don’t click with me in the end the way I hope they did. It’s like Ridley Scott thinks he’s deeper than he actually is and his movies always suffer for it. PROMETHEUS and AMERICAN GANGSTER are good examples of that.

  27. Yeah, Tombstone kind of sucks. It tries to be historically accurate but also a badass revenge Western and it doesn’t do well with either. In a film where Wyatt Earp rides a horse through a fucking window and shoots half a dozen people in a barbershop, they have a nonsensical scene where he lets Ike Clanton go because Ike throws off his red sash. We saw Wyatt lynching Cowboys earlier and now he’s letting a guy he KNOWS was attempting to kill one of his brothers go? In real life, Wyatt never caught up with Ike Clanton, but in real life he never rode a horse through a barbershop window either. And the Dana Delaney subplot is just dogshit. She’s supposed to be some free spirit but in reality sounds like a complete airhead. “What do you want out of life?” “Room service!” Ugh. What a waste of a cast.

    Sorry, as a big fan of Westerns, the praise Tombstone always gets has always been baffling to me. It shows clear signs of a production in trouble. Also, pegsman, Wyatt Earp was widely panned when it was released, with only Tarantino singing its praises. Tombstone wasn’t screened for critics because of its troubled production history but it was the better regarded of the two (I’m not a fan of either film).

  28. I unabashedly love Tombstone, bloat and all.

  29. David, you’re probably right about absolutely everything, and I have at least half a dozen better movies about Wyatt in my dvd vault, but sometimes you just crave a big, unhealthy piece of cheese. And Dana Delaney’s hot.

  30. When you look at Cosmatos’ output you just have to love the guy. THE CASSANDRA CROSSING, ESCAPE TO ATHENA and OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN are especially dear to me. You know deep within that it’s just plain bad, but Richard Harris whispering his way through Europe, Roger Moore as a German officer and Peter Weller going bananas in his own apartment…what’s not to like.

  31. I wonder just how much of this (and RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II) Cosmatos actually directed.

    I recall reading somewhere that he basically did the 2nd unit stuff on Rambo, but who knows.

  32. Oh, and put me firmly in the TOMBSTONE love camp. True, it’s bloated but I’d rather have too much than not enough.

    And the cast – holy moley, just amazing.

    Kilmer as Doc Holliday is the best thing in it, for me. His final moments are great acting, pure and simple. Just beautiful.

  33. I believe the story (which may be apocryphal) goes that Russell had taken over directing duties after the first guy got canned, but he wasn’t in the DGA so he couldn’t take credit for it. Knowing that Stallone often ghost directed his movies, Russell asked him to recommend someone who’d let them put his name on the picture without really doing anything. And Stallone said Cosmatos. Or so the story goes. It could be one of those “Spielberg really directed POLTERGEIST” deals.

  34. Well COBRA is certainly similar enough stylistically to ROCKY IV to add some credence to that theory. FIRST BLOOD PART II seems cut from another cloth, but maybe Stallone just got really into MTV over the course of 1985.

  35. Russell has said there is a cut of TOMBSTONE of his that hasn’t been released yet that I have heard is very good.

  36. All of this talk about Russell ghost directing with Cosmatos as his proxy stems from this interview published in TRUE WEST magazine in October 2006(free registration in order to read the whole thing):

    http://www.truewestmagazine.com/jcontent/entertainment/entertainment/western-movies/2787-the-western-godfather

    Russell was apparently unhappy with this story going to print and I don’t believe he has said anything about publicly since this ran. Or has he? His comments at the end indicated there is no definitive uncut version. Only that he has a copy of all the footage shot and could reconstruct it if he were inclined to, which he wasn’t at that time.

  37. Good article, Al. I’d be curious to see a ‘real’ directors cut. Looks like I only saw the ghost directors one. And we all know ghosts aren’t real.

  38. I have read Kevin Jarre’s original Tombstone script, and while it still has the terrible Josephine Marcus dialogue, it would have made for a far better film. There was some stuff involving Old Man Clanton that was pretty badass (Robert Mitchum was going to play him in the film but injured himself while riding a horse). Here’s a story about Jarre’s firing from the film: http://truewest.ning.com/profiles/blog/show?id=2518161%3ABlogPost%3A169379&commentId=2518161%3AComment%3A169383

    And I’ll probably get crucified for saying this, but I think Kurt Russell really sucks in the film (and I’m a fan of Kurt Russell). He’s whiny, unpleasant and over-emotional. Frankly, I prefer Kevin Costner’s stilted, wooden portrayal. I imagine the real Wyatt Earp was a stilted, wooden man. Nothing comes close to Henry Fonda’s performance in My Darling Clementine though.

  39. I prefer James Garner in HOUR OF THE GUN over Fonda.

  40. For some reason actors seem to direct good westerns. Not just Eastwood and Costner (and Russell, apparently), but also Ed Harris. I fucking love APPALOOSA. People seem to have forgotten about that one. I’m constantly singing its praises.

  41. That’s because they all come from the generation where westerns ruled the landscape of TV, movies and even as far back as radio. As little boys they probably went to sleep dreaming about being a cowboy.

  42. I’m pretty sure that the only reason anybody makes westerns anymore is that actors of a certain age grew up wanting to ride a horse into the sunset, and if nobody’s gonna cast them to do that, then by god they’ll just have to direct the goddamn thing themselves.

  43. And because of the “rules” it’s hard to fuck it up. Actors who only have directed one or to films usually have a western on their CV. Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Dwight Yoakam, John Wayne (duh!), Tommy Lee Jones, Ed Harris, Peter Fonda etc, etc. And they’re all pretty/very good.

  44. Whatever happened to Tommy Lee Jones remaking THE COWBOYS?

    I really like the old John Wayne one, but I also think it’s the kind of story that could benefit from a slight thematic update every generation or two, especially since it’s about young men learning some tough lessons in life. I hope it still happens. Jones would absolutely nail it.

  45. On the other hand, pegsman: Seth MacFarlane.

  46. Never liked Hour of the Gun very much. Garner is OK, but the look and feel of it is so generic and it has the same problem as Tombstone in that it wants to balance history and entertainment and screws up both. The boomtown of Tombstone is portrayed as a boring ghost town and don’t get me started on the Ike Clanton gunfight climax. The best Earp films use his story as a foundation for other things (Clementine, Law and Order, 40 Guns, etc).

  47. The movie itself isn’t thje best. But Garner is good. As always. A very underrated actor in my opinion.

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