Sunday, 6 November 2011



As far as demented cop action films go, this senseless Cannon extravaganza from 1986 goes quite a long way. It's probably not as crazy as some of the Italian or Hong Kong ones, but its relentless combination of thudding violence and ridiculous levels of destruction ensure that it's still pretty wild. Sadly, in these wishy-washy liberal times, maverick cops who don't follow the rules and mow down allcomers with submachine guns aren't anything like the box-office draw they were a mere 25 years ago - and even then there wouldn't have been a police department anywhere in the real-life civilised world that would employ Marion Cobretti, a cop who doesn't just make Dirty Harry look like a flower arranger, but makes Genghis Khan look like My Little Pony.

In Cobra, a small cabal of anarchistic nutjobs periodically gather in a disused swimming pool to clank axes above their heads prior to bringing about the New World Order or something (the specifics are never made clear); the principal nutjob is the otherwise unnamed Night Slasher, a hulking homicidal maniac murdering random women in the street. (How this is supposed to overthrow the existing democratic administration is also never explained.) One of his attacks is witnessed by model Ingrid (Brigitte Nielsen), at which point this fearsome killing machine turns into a blundering incompetent who has several golden opportunities to silence her and fails at all of them. Brought off the LAPD's "Zombie Squad", the guys who do the jobs no-one else wants, Lt Cobretti (Sylvester Stallone) gets assigned to guard Ingrid as well as effectively use her as bait to catch the maniac.

It's frankly a mystery why Ingrid continues to stick with Cobretti after an undeniably spectacular car chase in which both of them are almost killed (which wouldn't have been necessary in the first place if The Night Slasher hadn't suddenly forgotten everything he'd ever learned about being a successful serial killer). Nor is it revealed why the best way of killing a woman at a motel is to bring in a 40-strong gang of homicidal gun-toting bikers and reduce the place to a smouldering, bullet-ridden wreck, when one person could simply shoot or even poison her and the cops guarding her: job done quickly, efficiently and quietly, and there's really no need to blow anything up. For what is essentially an exercise in damage limitation for the weirdo axe-clanking cult, there's a stupendous amount of further damage being created. But that's not how things work in the Cannon Universe.

And matters aren't helped by Cobretti's persona: Stallone's voice sounds slowed down in the way that Alvin And The Chipmunks are sped up, he spends way too much time playing with his arsenal of handguns, machine pistols and grenades (I don't believe any of it is standard LAPD issue) and appears to have at least as much of an issue with cops and authority as the nutters do - he's particularly angered by the wet liberal by-the-book cop Andrew Robinson (injokingly cast from his role as maniac Scorpio in the original Dirty Harry). It's a mystery what Ingrid sees in the man, and Brigitte Nielsen frankly isn't the actress to make us understand their budding romance. And Stallone isn't the screenwriter to bring it to life.

And he isn't the right actor for the smart one-liners either (when another maniac threatens to blow up a supermarket, Cobretti's neat response is "Go ahead, I don't shop here anyway"), which need to be delivered by a more personable character. But here he's such a difficult guy to empathise with or warm to that there's little left to respond to but the violence and action sequences. Still, those action sequences are undeniably well done, particularly the car chase (in which two fuel tankers are blown up) and the motel shootout, and Cobretti is such a laughable LAPD officer the movie ends up as stupidly entertaining.

Cobra is a pretty average film, all told: it's a dumb and needlessly violent movie, and it reeks of the 80s with the tight jeans and thumpy synth/rock score. But it's still rather disreputable entertainment and I admit enjoyed revisiting it (I'd forgotten great chunks of it). Maybe nostalgia plays a part in it: I don't remember caring for it much back in 86 but it seems rather more watchable now. Stallone's done a lot better - Tango & Cash is a terrific lunkheaded 80s cop movie - but this is worth a rewatch.


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