When a madman pulls out a gun in the middle of a supermarket, he starts out by firing at the produce department. He doesn’t shoot at anyone who works in the produce department. Instead, in slow motion, he blows away cabbages and apples. Then he shoots a shopping cart. He finally gets around to shooting one innocent bystander after telling him to walk down an aisle.
Outside the supermarket, a 1950 Mercury Monterey Coupe pulls up. The personalized license plate reads Awsum 50. The car’s driver (Sylvester Stallone) steps out of the car. His name is Lt. Cobretti but everyone calls him Cobra. Detective Monte (Andy Robinson, who played the killer in Dirty Harry) tells Cobra to stay out of it. Cobra ignores him and goes into the store.
The guman raves that he’s a part of the “new world.”
“You wasted a kid for nothing,” Cobra says. “Now, I think it’s time to waste you.”
And then Cobra does just that.
After getting yelled at by his superiors, Cobra drives back to his apartment, throws away his mail, and uses a pair of scissors as an eating utensil. Just another day in the life of Cobra.
If you hadn’t already guessed, Cobra is the ultimate Sylvester Stallone-in-the-80s Cannon film. In 1985, Stallone could do any film that he wanted to and, even if he wasn’t the director, the job was usually given to someone who wouldn’t stand in the way of letting Sly achieve his vision. (That vision usually involved Stallone getting all of the good shots while everyone else dove for cover.) Stallone is credited as the writer of Cobra and whatever else you can say about the man and his films, Stallone the screenwriter knew exactly what Stallone the actor was good at. There’s not much meaningful dialogue in Cobra and most of it is made up of either Stallone threatening to shoot people or characters like the Night Slasher (Brian Thompson) bragging about how Cobra can’t touch him because of the constitution. There is more intentional humor in Cobra than I think most people realize and there are a few scenes that only make sense if you accept that Stallone was poking fun of his own monosyllabic image. For the most part, though, Cobra is nonstop violence from beginning to end.
Amazingly, Cobra started out as Beverly Hills Cops. Before Eddie Murphy was cast as Axel Foley, Beverly Hills Cop was briefly meant to be a Sylvester Stalllone film. Stallone, however, rewrote the script and took out most of the humor. After the film’s producers reminded Stallone that they were trying to make a comedy, Stallone left the project and most of his ideas ended up in the script for Cobra. The film features a murderous cult, led by the knife-wielding Night Slasher, that is determined to destroy anyone who they think is standing in the way of the “new world.” Only Cobra can both stop them and also protect the life of their latest target, a model named Ingrid Knudsen (Brigitte Nielsen). It’s hard to imagine Eddie Murphy dealing with any of this but it’s perfect for Stallone.
Cobra is a live-action cartoon and Cobra’s battle with the Night Slasher should be taken as seriously as He-Man’s battles with Skeletor. The Night Slasher has no motivation beyond just being evil, Cobra never runs out of bullets or takes even a piece of shrapnel despite having hundreds of cultists shooting at him, and there’s an extended sequence where Ingrid poses with life-size robots. Cobra chews on a toothpick and wears dark glasses and that’s all the personality he needs. After all, crime is the disease and he’s the cure.