Sylvester Stallone writes and stars in a film about a cop who’s tough, impulsive, hot-headed and totally un-employable. He takes on a death cult who are responsible for a string of murders, while protecting Ingrid (Brigitte Nielsen), the victim who got away.
I have a theory that Sylvester Stallone can only act parts he wrote himself, a theory which has been destroyed by his terrible performance in Cobra. The character is set up as the ultimate no nonsense tough guy, which Stallone portrays with the personality of a breeze block, then when he’s expected to laugh and joke with his colleagues or love interest he employs the same delivery.
Stallone and Nielsen prove, as in Red Sonja, that real life romance doesn’t equal onscreen chemistry. Although maybe Nielsen is the common connection there. A particular highlight is when the two flirt over French fries, the most romantic diner scene since Pacino confronted De Niro in Heat.
The one-liners, set up to make Stallone look cool, are unintentionally hilarious, and the action on a par with Cliffhanger for its absurdity. It’s fun to watch if confusingly edited in places. It’s basically Judge Dredd without the silly costumes, and with a trail of destruction to rival Demolition Man. The cult-based mystery plot is never explained, to a point where they might as well have just the action sequences, as that’s clearly all that matters.
Stylistically this is Stallone’s response to Terminator, from the blank faced, shades-wearing lead, to a sequence where explosives are prepared in a bedroom while our couple bond, to the setting of the final fight. Entire sections feel completely lifted. But while it may have the style of Terminator, it has the substance of Police Academy.
If it has a message it’s that criminals should have no rights and tough cops should be able to do whatever they want with them. This is true of a lot of action films, and as escapism you really need to take any messages with a pinch of salt. But Cobra seems to go out of its way to plug this message. Characters stop to opine about how much better it would be if we could just ‘lock up all the scumbags’ and never let them out. Cobra even punches anyone in the face if they disagree with him and flatly rejects the idea that suspects should have the protection of the law. If it wasn’t for the acting this would be the worst thing about the film. That and the fact it has more product placement than QVC.
This is an example of the excesses that defined action films of the era, stretching tropes and plausibility to breaking point. There’s a certain amount of fun in watching how barmy it all is, even if it can’t be said to be a good film in any sense. They don’t make them like this any more, which is probably a good thing. Cobra, you’re hisstory.