It’s Christmas time in Los Angeles and a new breed of gang, lead by “The Night Slasher” (Brian Thompson), holds the city in terror. The L.A.P.D. has no choice but to unleash their greatest weapon: Cobra (Sylvester Stallone). Stallone’s script is clearly a reaction to the crimes of Richard Ramirez, pitting an officer with no regard for human life or due process against a maniac serial killer and his army of axe wielding goons.
Cobra (1986), a typical Canon Group spectacle of coked out action violence, takes a conservative, fascist perspective on American law enforcement. Director George P. Cosmatos directs the film beautifully which adds a glossy veneer to the rather tasteless proceedings. But all the gorgeous compositions in the world can only do so much to mask Stallone’s political agenda.
The reason why Cobra isn’t as disturbing as it could be is the same reason why it has become a cult favorite: it’s insane. The dialogue is all boiler plate leaving Stallone’s eccentricities as a screenwriter to flourish in the visual realm. Obviously the axe “dances” that the bad guys do are a head scratcher (as are their motives), but there’s also the matter of the rocket powered car Stallone drives or the odd little moment where Stallone mimics the movements of a bobble-head toy that he holds right up to his face. Stallone’s scripts always assign odd little quirks to characters in an attempt to give them some depth. But in the case of Cobra these quirks (too many for me to list) have the cumulative effect of rendering the film as a kind of live-action Saturday morning cartoon.
This creates a sort of balancing act of tone in Cobra between Dirty Harry (1971) on the one hand and something like Innerspace (1987) on the other. This makes Cobra the Sharky’s Machine (1981) of eighties action movies. For fans of the “rogue cop who doles out beatings like free cheese” movies Cobra is an unironic postmodern celebration of the genre that’s as likely to baffle as it is too amuse. Some may even prefer Cobra to other Christmas oriented action flicks of the eighties like Die Hard (1988) and Lethal Weapon (1989).