Sylvester Stallone and his regular fall guy George P Cosmatos join forces with Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan's Cannon Group to deliver Cobra, an 87 minute splatterfest that finds connective tissue between straight-to-video slashers and street-sweeping law enforcement. Stallone plays Marion Cobretti terminally cool, like Arthur Fonzarelli starring in his very own European violence comic. Cobra stands as the LAPD's last resort, a Zombie Squad stick-up man who's happy flashing Giallo blades when he's not steaming around in a battleship grey Mercury Eight, hunting wrongdoers.
In Cobra's world regular cops are ineffectual wimps with limp pistols and even limper politics. Only Cobra has the stones, not to the mention the cavalier regard for due process, to muck in and get the job done. Cobra is Dirty Harry's mutant offspring, an unrestrained avenger driven by simplistic, knee-jerk posturing and supermarket tabloid headlines. Callahan cleaned up San Francisco with a fetishised six shot revolver, Cobretti's task is so great he requires a misshapen Finnish sub-machine gun that fires explosive, car shredding bullets.
Stallone's narrow, insistent focus compliments the more deranged aspects of Cobra's future-shocked premise. Although barely explored, the film's central threat is a wave of hysteria that has penetrated every level of society, compelling construction workers, yuppies and even police officers to meet in concrete pits to bang axes together. Stallone isn't interested in the logistics or thought processes behind this mania, it's just an interesting image he can match to a foreboding percussive beat.
As with Staying Alive and the last two Rocky films Stallone is generating mood and excitement out of abstracted movement, the aesthetic jumble of MTV's emotional editing as a method of pure narrative delivery. Stallone, ever the populist, is using this language to compartmentalise the elements of film that don't interest him - motivations are fixed, pat even. Good is good and evil is just evil. In this universe, Cobretti's fascistic hatred of lawbreakers is positioned as the only sane response to a society that is happy to gnaw its own leg off.
The film is a lark, Stallone and Cosmatos have built themselves a towering, two hour monument to eradication, then hacked it down to the bone to appease ratings boards, greedy distributors and, most importantly, Stallone's own ego. Asked to deliver a sub-90 minute wheeze for the Top Gun crowd, Stallone dialled into that film's sweaty regard for the muscled male as a desirable object. Despite Brigette Nielsen's presence, no-one here is shot more adoringly than Stallone.
Cobra pores over its subject, not so much as the kind of efficient, muscled machinery that drives the rival Schwarzenegger films but as a cool, aspirational personality. The film lingers on Stallone. Every gesture, every discursive bit of waffle the actor employs to wrestle the audience's attention back to him is up there on the screen. Stallone warps the basic mechanics of police procedurals, rendering every building block but himself brief, if not elliptical.
This narcissism doesn't actually harm Cobra though. If anything it elevates it, transforming a landfill policer into a brisk, energetic horror show. Cobra iterates on Nighthawks, solving a lot of that film's problems in the process - LA-LA Land is a more conducive environment for Stallone's ego trip, while Brian Thompson's performance as The Night Slasher never overwhelms Stallone they way Rutger Hauer did. Cobra signals a sea change for Stallone, he's no longer retreating from the larger-than-life status that Rocky and Rambo have conferred, he's embracing it, seeing if he can apply himself to a different formula.