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Cobra 1986 ***

If you follow UK politics at all, you’ll be familiar with the acronym COBRA. When there’s a crisis, a COBRA meeting will be organised. ‘The Prime Minister is about to begin his COBRA briefing ’. It comes something of a disappointment to find that COBRA stands for the rather staid-sounding Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms, and not Marion Cobretti, the toothpick-chewing one-man anti-crime wave featured in George P Cosmatos’ film/lump of meat. Advance publicity at the time suggested that crazed fans of the new Cobra film was so obsessed that they were breaking into cinemas and advertising hoardings to make off with posters of their hero; one can only imagine the same posters littering back-alleys like discarded Christmas trees once the film came out.

‘Call the Cobra!’ someone hisses as a passing gunman starts shooting up the fruit in his local supermarket. Melons, bananas, dates, all are ruthlessly put to the sword in an indiscriminate act, as Mrs Doubtfire would have it, of drive-by fruiting. Up steps Cobra, with his one good line; as he confronts the rampant fruit-hater in the aisles, Cobra mumbles ‘I don’t shop here.’ Otherwise, Cobra, as a movie, struggles to deliver the kind of high-octane excitement that say, Commando does. There’s a plot, absurdly palimpested from Paula Gosling’s 1978 novel Fair Game, which requires Cobra to do some witness protection, with cult-leader Night Slasher to tackle. Sounds exciting, right? Unfortunately, the local colour is bland, Cobra’s car looks like something Miss Daisy would enjoy, an old 1950’s Mercury, and the witness he’s protecting turns out to be Brigitte Nielsen. The records will show that Nielsen made more waves as a celebrity than as an actress, and she doesn’t do much here to run against that perception.

Meanwhile, Cobra builds to some impressive action, with plot secondary to an extended truck and bike chase, plus a familiar warehouse showdown. But the iconic nature of the character fizzles despite monologues like ‘Crime is the disease, and I’m the cure.’ Dirty Harry seems to be the model, but Cobra doesn’t seem to be on-the edge like Clint Eastwood’s character; if anything, Cobra seems as much of a menace than the criminals do.

That’s a bit of a stretch; Cobra goes out of its way as a film to depict a horrific cult of violent crims, aiming to satisfy our blood-lust as Cobra guns them down. But Cobra, the movie, is more about style than content, and what’s on-screen says more about the vanity of the star and director; a montage of the faces of toy robots intercut with homeless people provides a dash of pretention, but the inclusion of a lengthy Brigitte Nielsen photo-shoot dampens any hope of trenchant social commentary.

There is no cure for this particular disease, although Amazon Prime are confident you’ll be back for more of the same. ‘More like Cobra’ runs the advert, which, with a high level of inappropriateness, guides the shell-shocked viewer to rentals for Dirty Grandpa and Erin Brockovich. There’ll never be more like Cobra, and that’s probably a relief; it’s odd to think this character inspired the tooth-pick-chewing anti-hero played by Ryan Gosling in Drive.

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  1. We had a film reviewer in the U.S., Roger Ebert, who is probably known in the U.K., take issue with this film because Stallone’s idea of “character development” was cutting a piece of three-day old pizza with a pair of scissors.

    Hey, it’s better than ex-NFL footballer Brian Bosworth mixing up what we think is a muscle drink in a blender . . . and he pours it into a pet bowl . . . . for his lizard (’91s Stone Cold, which more than owes its life to Cobra).

    • Yes, Ebert was onto something, and the trope also features in End of Days, where Arnie’s character liquidises a pizza for breakfast. How a man eats pizza defines his masculinity; scissors or blender?

      Thanks for reminding me about the Boz; One Man’s Justice is still a work I return to over and over again.

  2. Acceptable stuff back in the day when Stallone meant definite action and snuffing out bad guys. Always better to see Stallone with a weapon in his hand (boxing gloves count) than stretching his vocal chords a la Rhinestone or God help us wrestling (Over the Top). Cobra came out between surefire hits Rocky IV and Rambo III so dare I suggest this may well have been him moving into an experimental field.

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