No, Cobra is technically not a horror movie. Still it’s concept of an army of ax-wielding serial killers evokes some horror imagery. Besides, this George P. Cosmatos-directed Stallone ‘shoot’em up’ was tailor-made for the Worst Movie Ever column. As a side note, Cosmatos’ son, Panos Cosmatos directed the bonkers Nicolas Cage flick, Mandy. Released at was arguably Sly Stallone’s peak, Cobra is a DOA action-thriller. But is it just a ‘bad’ movie or is it ‘so bad it’s good’?
A brutal serial killer known as the ‘Night Slasher’ is terrorizing the city and leaving a body count. After a model glimpses his face at a crime scene, the Slasher and his followers cut a path of destruction across the city to eliminate her. The only thing standing between the Night Slasher and his ‘new world order’ and her is hardboiled cop, Marion ‘Cobra’ Cobretti.
Cobra is a Conservative Ad for ‘Law and Order’
Arriving at what was probably the tail-end of a period of rising crime rates over the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, Cobra is like a conservative television ad for ‘law and order’. It’s less of a coherent crime thriller, and more like a dog’s breakfast’ of crime tropes. Stallone wrote the screenplay himself based on a novel, Fair Game, written by Paula Gosling. It’s like Stallone perused a few headlines and then beefed everything up on steroids. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the movie’s hackneyed depiction of crime.
…one serial killer wasn’t good enough for Rambo. Stallone’s ‘Night Slasher’, an obvious nod to the real Night Stalker’, has an army of killers.
By 1986, the serial killer had taken root in American public consciousness. Not surprisingly, 80’s cop thrillers frequently used the concept as a stock villain. Of course, one serial killer wasn’t good enough for Rambo. Stallone’s ‘Night Slasher’, an obvious nod to the real ‘Night Stalker’, has an army of killers. No signature. No modus operandi. Instead, Cobra’s villains target anyone with no discernible motive. It’s the kind of faceless, random evil that drives demand for bigger police budgets and more prisons. Character actor Brian Thompson plays the ‘Night Slasher’ as a hulking brute. Even his knife has to be extra scary with a pimped out, bladed handle. Cobra is more cartoonish, than thrilling.
One-Note ‘Crime and Justice’ Politics
Over a decade after Dirty Harry and Death Wish grappled with due process rights and rising crime, Cobra feels almost like a parody. The movie is largely a series of mindless action scenes held together by intermittent speeches on the limitations of the criminal justice system. Your drunk uncle could have written the movie’s dialogue. In once scene, Stallone’s ‘Zombie Squad’ Cobra lectures a liberal journalist on victim rights while shoving his face into a dead body on a gurney. Later in the movie, Cobra laments how judges just put ‘psychos’ back on the street.
Nerdy Andrew Robinson’s ‘by-the-book’ Detective Monte is essentially just a collection of stereotypes of the ‘bleeding heart liberal’. His only purpose is to give the audience a physical representation of the system’s weakness. There’s even the police captain who yells at Cobra about police procedures.
Mindless ‘80’s Action Fare
So what is Stallone’s solution to a weak criminal justice system? Well, it’s lots of mindless ‘80’s action. Car chases. Explosions. Shoot outs. More car chases. Seriously, Cobra’s body count comes close to Schwarzenegger’s ‘80’s opus, Commando. For a movie that opens with a lament about rising violence in America, Cobra doesn’t seem to mind indulging in mindless carnage.
For all of its violence, Cobra is just a step above what you would have seen in an episode of The A-Team.
None of these problems matter if Cobra delivers a 90-minute adrenaline ride for audiences. Commando wasn’t exactly Shakespeare, but it’s a ridiculously fun movie. Unfortunately, Cobra is clearly a lesser Stallone effort. Cosmatos films the action with a workman-like effort. That’s to say, it’s competent but not at all thrilling. For all of its violence, Cobra is just a step above what you would see in an episode of The A-Team. While there’s some blood, Cobra hardly earns its R-rating. Stallone mostly waves around guns while poor sound effects ring out and bad guys fall down. Its climax is shockingly perfunctory, saved only by one of the best ‘dumb’ one-liners in action film history.
Cobra Isn’t Nearly As Fun As It Should Be
No, Cobra isn’t a horror movie, but that doesn’t make it any less horrific. Lacking any of the self-awareness of more recent action movies, Cobra takes itself very seriously and is all the more stupid for it. Everything about this movie has aged poorly. And I haven’t’ even mentioned the lame ‘80’s music score. Even if you have a love for Stallone or just ‘80’s action movies, there’s little here to recommend.
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