Home Video Hovel: Cobra, by David Bax
When we accuse a movie of being “dated,” we usually mean that its faults have been gradually revealed by time. And George P. Cosmatos Cobra, out now on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory, certainly has elements—like the glaring product placement of Toys “R” Us or the era-specific Pepsi logo—that place it firmly in the mid-1980s. But most of what’s bad about the movie is just plain bad. You wouldn’t have had to be particularly forward thinking in 1986 to recognize this shallow, garish, excessive and irresponsible movie for what it is.
Sylvester Stallone—who also wrote the screenplay and, if the rumors are true, directed most of the movie himself—stars as Marion “Cobra” Cobretti, a hard bitten Los Angeles cop who plays by his own rules and other embarrassing clichés to that effect. Introducing himself with voiceover that’s grumbly to the point of self-parody and constantly chewing on a matchstick, Cobra comes across as a guy who likes detective noir movies but doesn’t think the heroes are macho enough. Cobra’s plot involves Cobretti taking a serial cult murder investigation into his own hands because the detectives assigned to the case are a little too squeamish for his tastes when it comes to shooting first and asking questions later, if at all. He’s got a partner/enabler (Reni Santoni) and a romantic interest (Brigitte Nielsen), the cult’s intended next victim. But the closest Cobra comes to intimacy or eroticism is when he’s cleaning or assembling his guns.
Cobra’s most satisfying element is the cinematography by Ric Waite who, with this film, Footloose and Red Dawn, is one of the unsung architects of what we picture when we think of 1980s Hollywood popcorn flicks (see also Jeffrey L. Kimball and Donald Peterman). An early sequence, crosscutting between a killer on a motorcycle shot with a fisheye lens and finished off with a cherry red filter and a basement cult ritual with shafts of dusty light pouring in from high-set windows, sets an expectation of grimy beauty that Cobra only occasionally lives up to. But Waite and Cosmatos (and Stallone, I guess) do fulfill the promise of that killer’s arrival at his destination. Basically, anytime anyone shows up anywhere for the rest of the movie, we will see their boots touch down on the pavement first before the camera tilts up to show us the rest of them.
As far as the story, action and pretty much all of the film’s other content, Cobra is the dumbest, most indulgent possible iteration of the “America has become a cesspool of crime” subgenre popularized by Death Wish and executed with an actual brain by RoboCop. Even before the pride of place given to the framed photo of President Ronald Reagan in Cobra’s office, it’s already been made clear that this is little more than uber-conservative, “strong arm of the law” style fascism. A montage of Cobra tracking down leads that shows him questioning white witnesses and roughing up black ones confirms that, like all similar worldviews, it’s also racist as hell.
Shout! Factory’s new 2K transfer does justice to the 1980s’ hazy, filmic tactility. And it’s essentially dirt-free. The sound quality is also commendable. If you’re a fan of that action movie thing where everything from gun shots to slamming doors is unnaturally loud and separated from the rest of the atmosphere, you’ll be in heaven.
This “Collector’s Edition” lives up to the categorization by providing a heavy dose of brand new features. There’s an interview with Brian Thompson, who plays the head sicko; an interview with Marco Rodriguez, the aforementioned killer biker; an interview with Andrew Robinson, the by-the-book detective Cobra can’t stand; an interview with Art LaFleur, the by-the-book detective Cobra hates only slightly less; and an interview with Lee Garlington, who plays a psychotic cop (not to be confused with Cobra himself, whom the movie would never admit is also a psychotic cop). The disc also carries over some existing features from past releases, such as a commentary with Cosmatos and an old featurette.
Which scenes depicted “strong arm of the law style fascism”? When Cobra stopped murderers who were in the process of actively killing people?