a critiQal film review Cobra (1986)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: Lt. Cobretti (Stallone), a street-tough detective with a no-nonsense approach to law enforcement, is tasked to protect a witness (Nielsen) from a marauding gang of psycho-biker killers who will stop at nothing to eliminate her.

824 words (Est. Reading Time 4m 7s)

Ah, the 80’s! Such a time for violent action heroes taking on the world – back when names like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Steven Seagal were the superheroes of the action scene, not Spider-Man and Green Lantern. During that heyday, there came a movie called Cobra, starring one of those heroes, Sylvester Stallone.

While the action scene was exciting back in the 80’s, would that remain true of the films it produced, even more than a decade later? Thanks to NetFlix® instant queue, we had our chance to revisit Cobra and see if it was one of the good ones, or just another toss-away action flick of the 80’s.

Stallone has always been known for grunting his lines, and Cobra really showcases why that is. Whether he’s trying to hit on his co-star Brigitte Nielsen (who was his wife at the time), or spewing out cheesy one-liners when going up against the (mostly) faceless bad guy army, his grunting speech seems more pronounced than usual. The viewer gets the impression the words are nearly being forced out of him.

Surprisingly, this trait plays well with his character, a typical 80’s action hero who, while he may be a police officer, has his own views on how criminals should be handled, and becomes their judge, jury and executioner. Sure, this kind of take-no-prisoners attitude is a cliche by this point, but it’s a common trait for most 80’s heroes, so fits right in with the time frame. Since he’s so used to playing this type of character, Stallone could have probably slept-walk through his role – and maybe he did. He certainly doesn’t show nearly the same enthusiasm for this character as, say, Rocky, so it’s not one of his better performances, but he still manages to eke out a character that isn’t unwatchable.

Brigitte Nielsen steps into the stereotypical female role most actresses these days would avoid with a 10-foot pole – namely, being the eye candy for the film and not much else. While she would later make her Beverly Hills Cop II (1987) character a much more memorable figure, in Cobra she’s content to be just the frightened witness falling for the “bad boy” cop. It’s kind of pathetic, really, and her performance won’t be remembered much by Cobra viewers.

The rest of the cast has a few semi-recognizable faces, but for the most part they tend to fade into the background, since the film is really about Stallone and, to a lesser extent, Nielsen. It’s Stallone’s action vehicle right from the start, and the film never lets you forget that – leaving the other characters to fade quickly into the background when not on-screen.

As with a lot of 80’s action flicks (and some later films), the plot’s main purpose is to try to tie in the action sequences without the film getting boring during the parts where guns aren’t going off in record numbers. While it does present a rather bare bones storyline, Cobra lacks something that really would bring the viewers to care for it’s characters. With little to no build-up of characters other than Stallone himself, and a paper-thin excuse for these bad guys to be chasing so vehemently after Nielsen’s character (after all, if the whole point is to eliminate the witness, why are they so free about showing themselves in front of cops like Stallone’s Cobretti?). the plot barely manages to keep the viewer’s attention, much less their interest.

Since Cobra is an 80’s action flick, however, there’s plenty of action sequences to cover-up the paper-thin plot devices. With car chases and gunfights abounding at nearly every turn, it seems to be more of a stunt coordinator’s dream come true than a plot-driven picture. The action sequences are entertaining enough, but they don’t really showcase anything the viewer hasn’t seen time and time again, and start wearing thin after awhile.

With Stallone grunting his way through some cheesy dialogue, and Brigitte Nielsen playing the stereotypical “girl” role to the hilt, Cobra comes off more as a by-the-numbers 80’s action flick than anything special in it’s own right. Definitely not the best of the 80’s action heyday, it’s still got some decent popcorn value, and viewers will find themselves scoffing at the picture even while sticking through to the very end.

Maybe we can’t turn away because we’re hoping Stallone will make Cobra as memorable as some of his other characters, but, alas, that never comes to pass, and we are left with just another rather cheesy cookie-cutter 80’s action film that doesn’t really give us anything we haven’t seen (better) many times before and since. If you missed Cobra during the 80’s action flick heyday, there’s not not much there to warrant a visit now (just like co-80’s action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger’s pic from the same year, Raw Deal (1986)), unless you’re trying to watch every film in Stallone’s career – and why would you put yourself through that?

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