In 1980s Sylvester Stallone was arguably the biggest star in Hollywood at the time. After a string of box office successes he appeared to have the Midas touch. Signed to originally star in the Beverly Hills cop movie, Stallone utilising a clause in his contract rewrote the screenplay making it more action orientated and changing the main character’s last name to Cobretti. Stallone would later leave the project after Paramount Pictures balked at the increase in budget from Stallone’s rewrite.
Based loosely upon Paula Gosling’s Novel ‘A running Duck’ Stallone wrote ‘Cobra’ about a nihilistic cop who will do anything to take down the bad guys. Directed by George P. Cosmatos, who collaborated with Stallone on ‘Rambo first blood part two’. It is worth noting here that it is rumoured that Stallone ghost directed ‘Cobra’ and ‘Rambo first blood part two’. It would later emerge that ‘Cosmatos’ next picture ‘Tombstone’ was ghost directed by Kurt Russel. Cosmatos being known as a guy who could be used for these services Kurt Russel would later say (about Tombstone) ‘I’d go to George’s room, give him the shot list for the next day, that was the deal. While you’re alive George, I won’t say a goddamn thing.’
‘Cobra’ was green lit with a budget of twenty five million dollars. Produced by Golan and Globus who in the 80s and 90s would shoot out lots of low budget B-movies with varying degrees of success.
Cobra setting is a seedy nihilistic Los Angeles where a ‘new world order’ biker gang is terrorising the general public. The ‘night slasher’, a sadistic serial killer trawls the streets in search of his next quarry. When we join the movie he is about to murder his sixteenth victim, mutilating her body using a razor sharp knife. Cue ‘Cobra’ a tough detective heading the ‘Zombie squad’, an extreme splinter group of the LAPD who shoot first and ask questions later, is tasked with finding and eliminating the ‘night slasher’.
When Ingrid played by Brigitte Nielsen is brutally attacked on her way home from a fashion shoot she comes under the protective watch of ‘Cobra’. That is essentially the movie plot wise.
Viewed now over thirty years later, Cobra is extremely dated. Filled with cheesy one-liners and choppy editing. It is, however, fast paced coming in at a lean 87 minutes. There is a great performance by Brian Thompson who plays the ‘night slasher’. He is a sadistic and menacing presence. The attack on ‘Ingrid’ in an LA hospital a particular highlight.
The original cut of the movie was rumored to be two hours ten minutes long featuring lots of bloody violence. Cut down to a more reasonable 90 minutes and the MPAA insisted that more cuts happen to secure a coveted ‘R’ rating and not the proposed ‘X’ rating. It is definitely a movie that suffers badly from being overly edited. Scenes are haphazardly put together with a lot of sudden cuts when anything violent appears on screen. Continuity errors are frequent and puzzling. Coherency sabotaged for run-time and the misguided belief that being an hour and a half will ensure more cinema viewings.
Some of the action scenes were interesting but again they suffer from poor editing decisions, haphazardly chopping away at any potential coherency and tension. Which is a shame as it could have been another type of ‘Mad max’. You can easily see that movie as being an inspiration for the finale and the subsequent biker gang chase.
In the end it becomes rinse and repeat with biker gangs dying theatrical deaths in very similar ways. ‘Cobra’ using his ‘Jeti-Mati’ automatic weapon slicing down one gang member after the next. I would argue that a cut with more of the violence intact would have made for a better viewing experience. As it stands the movie is part slasher movie part action movie with a tiny bit of romance tacked on to it.
Stallone for the most part revels in this persona delivering a cool, cold performance. It is clearly his movie, front and centre like Dirty Harry. Every other character is thrown into the background, which given some of the poor dialogue isn’t necessarily a bad idea. It’s a shame Warner Brothers didn’t accept the b-Grade aesthetics and embrace more of the violent, sleazy elements.
Still, for a movie which garnered six Razzie awards it did quite well taking in an estimated $160 million at the box office. For a while a sequel was planned but this was abandoned. Stallone recently hinted at a reemergence so maybe an older ‘Cobra’ may eventually hits the screens in future.