At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Cobra “86”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Action/ Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Brigitte Nielsen, Reni Santoni, Andrew Robinson, Brian Thompson, John Herzfeld, Lee Garlington, Art LaFleur, Marco Rodriguez, Val Avery, David Rasche/Runtime: 87 minutes

Is it just me or did the vast majority of action films made in the 80’s seem to revolve around one-man-armies that had only three words in their vocabulary and that trinity of words was “shoot to kill” and always in that order? Indeed even though, out of all the champions of the 80’s action film from Van Damme to Norris, the undisputed king may have been Mr. Olympia aka Arnold Schwarzenegger, but a close second quite a few people would argue would have been none other than Sylvester “Sly” Stallone who managed to hold his own in his own set of intriguing action films. Yet out of all of those I definitely feel that none of the others are as ruthless, lean, and as to the point as a little film he made in 1986 known as Cobra. A film that allows us as an audience to witness the man who also took on Stallone’s more commercial and audience-engaging film Rambo: First Blood Part II, as he carves out a different kind of action film. The difference being that while Rambo was done with the precision of a scalpel a doctor might use in surgery, Cobra is carved out with the blunt force of the machete used by Jason Voorhees against camp counselors and is filled to the brim with potent and quite graphic at times violence and is also honestly frightening at certain points. Indeed Cobra is first and foremost a film about the utilization of ruthless measures by both cops and criminals, and while it may be clichéd to the hilt at points, it is still nevertheless a perfect example of the kind of violent content over narrative over-the-top gonzo style that really came to define not only the action genre during this decade, but also the 80’s period. Suffice it to say then that this movie is easily leaps and bounds one of the most unsubtle films you will find thanks in large part to its flawed yet guns-a-blazing protagonist, a literal army of seemingly unstoppable lunatics for antagonists, and a smorgasbord of gonzo violence that can literally occur at any time, and truly anywhere. Indeed this is a film which manages to make the very concept of living that we all take for granted absolutely horrifying especially if our world and the world of this film ever managed to be indistinguishable from each other and especially when you are giving the following bone-chilling and soul-curdling opening monologue delivered with all seriousness by Mr. Stallone: “In America, there’s a burglary every 11 seconds, an armed robbery every 65 seconds, a violent crime every 25 seconds, a murder every 24 minutes, and 250 rapes a day.”

The plot is as follows: Cobra puts us in a world where in the United States, crime is absolutely relentless (so…2020?). Sadly for those who try to combat it the wave of crime has changed from simply little acts of vandalism and other petty crime into an almost overwhelming tidal wave consisting of the outright and horrific mass massacre of dozens of innocent people by the day. As our film opens, we see such an example when an individual threatens to annihilate a grocery store, and also murder the people who are inside. Suffice it to say that while the regular detectives on the force are incapable of stopping such a menace, there is one cop by the name of Cobretti or “Cobra” who has consistently shown that he can beat this type of ruthless and psychopathic crook at their own game. Thus after managing to wipe the street clean of this grocery store goon, Cobra soon finds out about a horrific tide of gruesome attacks on the public, but worse yet there is no pattern and no motive; they just simply like to kill. Yet, unlike most of his peers in the force, Cobra suspects this string of homicide is the doing of a group of psychos, and not just one ruthless nut. A theory that is soon proven accurate when a woman by the name of Ingrid finds herself the target of this group of thugs, but unlike the other victims, she actually manages to survive her nightmarish ordeal, and is quickly placed under police protection and is put in the hands of Cobra and his partner to be taken somewhere she can be safe so she can eventually identify and testify against the group that tried to kill her. Thus the people in this loony hit squad soon figure they have no choice, but to find and eliminate Ingrid before she can do so which honestly under normal circumstance might not be a problem for them given their homicidal methods. These aren’t normal circumstances however, and these nuts are about to learn that when the equally as ruthless, relaxed, and just as calculated Cobra is the cop standing in your way and ready to protect his charge at any cost… might just want to give yourself up; it might be a lot less painful….

Now it should be noted that this film’s love affair with any and all things over-the-top truly has not limit. Indeed it is safe to say that there are very few movies which are as gonzo and over the top as this one is, and plus this is a movie which lives on making the overarching narrative as simple as possible so that way it can ratchet up its ultra-violence up to a scale factor of at least a 12. Indeed in the world that this movie is set in, guns honestly give off an air of way more ruthless menace than they do elsewhere. To be fair the director most certainly isn’t out to glorify guns in any way, but he does manage to make them the focus the majority of the time and allows his camera crew to almost linger on the gun right down to the business end, and then chooses to quickly cut to whom is using them usually the relaxed, nonchalant yet still lethal Cobra or the psychotic army standing against whose every stare just seems to utter the word “kill”.  Yet even with that in play, the violent content in Cobra is somehow made significantly more terrifying by excessive flash from gun muzzles, ratchet-up by a scale factor of 10 sound effects, horrifying up close and personal looks at knives, hard to watch car chases, and an extremely ominous score. Indeed this is one movie which will not stop until it has accomplished its mission of conjuring up some of the more potent and graphic imagery in a mainstream film; thus it isn’t so much the gore and carnage that define this film, but instead is the tools of destruction and chaos that make said gore and carnage possible that do. Indeed whereas a lot of the other films from this particular decade are more about the man behind the weapon, this one chooses to be more about the lack of humanity and the various tools that a man could utilize that can both annihilate the balance of the world we live in yet also restore it at the same time.

It should also be said that the gonzo, over-the-top nature of the movie also segues over into the acting department as well with a pair of particular performances to take serious note of. The first is by none other than Sly Stallone in the lead role. Indeed Stallone manages to do a wonderful job of portraying this individual with a lethal yet relaxed efficiency to the point that it makes seem almost more like a robot cop rather than just a human with one serious edge about him. On the flip side of the coin however is this film’s batch of ruthless and spiteful antagonists. Indeed it is through them that we get this movie’s fiery-frightening mood set from the start as we see them hit metal weaponry together in a hidden locale. As bad as the group is however, their leader- a lunatic known only as Night Slasher- is something else if not the stuff that true nightmares are made of due in no small part to the look on his face that is equal parts ruthless and homicidal. Indeed it may be the most extreme way to have a performer portray an antagonist, but here it works wonderfully. Also doing a great job at conjuring up fear in this is the lack of reason or motivation behind the killer’s actions save for a typical and meaningless rationale near the conclusion. Indeed by not knowing why the killer is doing these horrific things, it just makes the film not only that much more thrilling, but that much more real for an audience watching it. Indeed in the eyes of this reviewer it really is amazing how Cobra can be so downright frightening yet absolutely entertaining at the same time, but honestly isn’t that a power that genuine movie magic is able to conjure up? If not then honestly I do not know for the life of me what truly is…

All in all Cobra may not be one of the most-widely known and/or regarded films to ever come out of that magical decade in time known as the 1980s, but if I am being honest I feel that an argument could be made that it deserves to be known by more audiences. Indeed it may not have as many iconic lines, be as timeless, or as well-made as some of the other more well-known entries such as Die Hard, Predator, or even Rocky 3 or 4, but it does possess an overabundance in regards to things that are either brutal, violent, or both that really does nicely showcase just what exactly this particular decade brought to the action genre in the world of film. Indeed it may be a film that is a little frightening and rough around the edges, and truth be told it honestly should’ve been at least a 2 hour film, but there is also something oddly comforting and engaging about it too and sometimes that’s really all you need. On a scale of 1-5 I give Cobra a solid 3 out of 5.