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Tonight's Feature Presentation

COBRA (1986)

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Brigitte Nielsen, Brian Thompson, Reni Santoni, Andrew Robinson, Lee Garlington

Written By: Sylvester Stallone, Paula Gosling (novel) Directed By: George P. Cosmatos

The Short Version

Think of Cobra as Sly playing Dirty Harry with no inhibitions.

This movie is gorgeously filmed; way more so than you’d expect from an action flick.

Everything rocks, from the soundtrack to Stallone’s car to the spectacular violence.

Cobra may very well be the ultimate expression of the 1980s action movie.

Get Cobra, get the soundtrack, grab some beer, and rock on 80s style!

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Though it may start looking like Swiss if people keep shooting holes in it.

Pairs Well With...


In quantity.  However, I do suggest that you don’t drink it warm like Cobra does in the grocery store scene.  Ew.

“I’ve got something that looks like cheese.  Come on.  Take the cheese.”

What if Dirty Harry had no inhibitions?  What if the police department had a “bottom line” point after which it unofficially sanctioned some of its officers to just plain kill the suspect rather than try to take him in?

Welcome to the wonderful world of Cobra, a film which may be the ultimate 1980s action movie, and which is indisputably my personal favorite Sylvester Stallone flick of all time.  

If ho-hum, wishy-washy “action” flicks are the disease, then Cobra is the cure.

Let’s take a ride back to 1986, shall we?

It begins with an ominous voiceover from Sylvester Stallone, who rattles off some crime statistics while the audience gets a close up of his ivory-grip gun with the custom cobra head art.

“In America, there’s a burglary every 11 seconds… an armed robbery every 65 seconds... a violent crime every 25 seconds... a murder every 24 minutes... and 250 rapes a day.”

Blam!  Bullet coming right at you, audience, along with some kick ass ominous music to accompany the title screen.  (Kudos to Sylvester Levay on a dynamite score.)

As the music continues, you get a taste of the gorgeous cinematography that you’re going to see throughout this film.  (Seriously, folks; this is damned incredible stuff you just don’t get with most action flicks.)  Blood red sky, silhouette of a dude on a bike, some scary shit with people clanging axes and other sharp objects together inside of a creepy warehouse in what looks almost like some sort of religious ceremony.  You just know that whatever happens next is gonna be messy…

The biker (Marco Rodriguez, Fast & Furious) pulls up at a supermarket, but he’s not there to shop.  After bumping into as many people as possible on his way to the back of the store, he pulls out a shotgun and starts committing a whole lot of gratuitous violence against produce and holiday décor.

Not long after, the cops show up and surround the place.  Negotiation’s just not working (just ask the guy who ends up with his ass splattered all over a Christmas tree), so they call in the Cobra: Lt. Marian Cobretti (Sylvester Stallone, First Blood), the most feared man on what they call the zombie squad.  He doesn’t negotiate with psychos.  He puts them away.  Cobra walks in, listens to the nut job demand TV cameras so he can tell everyone about the “new world,” engages in some witty banter, observes random shotgun violence perpetrated against a Pepsi display, pulls back a swallow of warm Coors (ew), and wastes the guy with a thrown knife and double tap combo.  All in a day’s work for the Cobra.

It’s a good thing he’s been practicing, because he’ll need to be at the top of his game.  It seems that there’s a killer called the Night Slasher (Brian Thompson, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation) prowling the streets of LA who’s killed sixteen victims in the past month alone, and when a woman who’s actually seen him (Brigitte Nielsen, Rocky IV) gets away, it’s going to be up to Cobretti to keep her alive…

Though it takes its initial basis from the novel “Fair Game” by Paula Gosling, it’s really obvious that nearly all of Cobra’s cues come from Dirty Harry.  To be sure, Cobra is far less subtle about it (yes, less subtle than a .44, but what else do you call it when the body count goes from 7 to 52?), but the underlying philosophy and character approach are still the same: the system is messed up and doesn’t have the tools to fight a modern era bad guy, so the rogue cop has to cut the red tape and administer some lead justice.

Just to make one point clear before we go on: I don’t condone the idea of a Marion Cobretti or even a Harry Callahan in the real world.  While they may have a point sometimes, they just don’t fit into this lovely thing we call “civilization.”  But that’s the beautiful thing about the movies: they’re fantasy.  They’re fiction.  They’re fun.  People absolutely do not have to buy into the politics that make their favorite movie characters tick in order to enjoy watching them blow shit up and hang bad guys from foundry hooks.  Of course, fans of violent movies have understood this sort of thing forever, but sadly, there are still some people – usually people who don’t watch violent movies, by some amazing coincidence – that don’t understand it.  I feel sorry for them, really, because they’re missing out on an ass kicking good time when the psycho in the grocery store annihilates that shopping cart with a shotgun.

Yes, random violence against a shopping cart.  You wouldn’t think that this could be awesome, but it is.  Why?  Because between the efforts of director George P. Cosmatos (Tombstone) and director of photography Ric Waite (Out for Justice), Cobra presents a clinic on how to shoot action right.  When the cart goes boom, it goes boom, but it also does so in a plausible enough fashion that it doesn’t come across a caricature.  That’s the fine line that so many action movies fall from: even when the object is over the top action, it stops being awesome when it turns into a farce.  The people behind Cobra know exactly where the line is, and they stay right on it, neither holding back nor going too far.  The results are nothing short of spectacular.  Grocery store psycho: rockin’.  Hospital sequence: brings back some fun slasher memories.  Car chase through LA: kick ass. (I love the 180 move to blast the bad guys with the machine gun.)  Motorcycle mayhem at the motel: bullet-ridden chaos.  Final confrontation in the foundry: awesome, including one of the most satisfying bad guy kills in action movie history.  When it comes to well-filmed, brilliantly paced action, you just can’t go wrong with Cobra.

Of course, you really can’t go wrong with anything in this movie.  Even the 80s music montage sequence is awesome. 

And then there’s Stallone himself, who is definitely at the pinnacle of his game here.  He plays Cobretti and the archetype he represents to perfection here, pure and simple.  Sylvester Stallone has always been a better actor than most people give him credit for, but what’s especially outstanding with regard to his work on Cobra is his adapted screenplay.  Though he’s famous for shunning dialogue, Stallone throws in some fabulous rants and exchanges here.  From the disturbingly controlled ravings of the Night Slasher to the smartass exchange with the grocery psycho to the buddy cop banter to real character building stuff between Cobretti and the woman he’s charged with protecting, this is all really good material, making for one of the better action scripts you’re going to run across from the mid 1980s.

Teaming up with Sly on the acting side is his then-wife, Brigitte Nielsen, who holds her own very well in the damsel in distress role.  She looks good in the modeling sequence, she reminds the audience that she can act during the scenes where her character has to bring out Cobretti’s humanity, and she knows how to scream and run when the knife-wielding maniac goes after her.  What more could you ask for?

Oh yeah.  Badass villains.  Cobra can do that.

I’ve already mentioned the sequence enough, but one of the other reasons that the grocery store scene works so well is the memorable performance of Marco Rodriguez as the psycho.  He’s got barely five minutes of screen time, but he makes those minutes count.  With that said, though, the star attraction of this flick has to be Brian Thompson as the Night Slasher.  “Intense” doesn’t even begin to describe Thompson’s performance, which is easily all time top five for a cop movie villain.  His character isn’t a scheming brainiac; he’s just one mean son of a bitch with a warped outlook on life, and Brian Thompson takes that role and runs with it.  (Knife sharpening scenes are cliché, I know, but if you want to see one done right for sheer creep factor, watch Thompson do it in this movie.)  Indeed, even though he’s got more than 80 acting roles to his credit, his performance here is so striking that I still can’t help but think of him first as “the ugly guy from Cobra,” and I do mean that as a compliment.  Once you see Brian Thompson in this movie, you will never forget him.

And speaking of badass cop movie villains…

As noted, Cobra can trace a lot of its lineage to Dirty Harry.  As it turns out, so can some of its cast.  Andrew Robinson, who played the deranged Scorpio serial killer in Dirty Harry, stars here as a by-the-book cop who is a constant pain in Cobretti’s ass always giving him crap about his tactics.  Robinson, of course, nails the part.  Also performing ably in the role of Cobretti’s partner is Reni Santoni, who happened to play the partner of a certain Inspector Callahan in Dirty Harry.  What’s interesting here is that both characters are named Gonzales, and though here you hear his first name called out as “Tony,” it’s not out of the question that “Chico” might have been a nickname fifteen years prior, and that maybe, just maybe, a young Inspector Gonzales transferred from the SFPD to the LAPD somewhere along the line (with a brief break to be a schoolteacher in between, of course)…  There is, of course, no formally recognized connection between the two characters, but it certainly is fun to think about.

But then again, pretty much everything about Cobra is fun to think about. Nearly all the big things you expect from a 1980s action movie are there and done right, and all of the little touches are there, too.  The burnout cop’s apartment where the gun kit is kept in an egg carton and leftover pizza is sliced with a scissors, the street punks, the hot car (which truly belonged to Stallone)…  This movie is just one unnecessary Brigitte Nielsen shower scene away from hitting every last wedge of the glorious action formula cheese wheel.  (And really, I'm okay with the omission.) Though I do have to say that I think there was a little bit of overkill when it came to the Pepsi product placement.  The grocery store was one thing, but the neon Pepsi sign right outside of Cobretti’s apartment door was a bit much.

Ah well; that’s easy enough to let pass, I think.

Bottom line, Cobra kicks ass, plain and simple.  It’s got almost all of the ingredients necessary to be considered the ultimate expression of the 1980s action flick, and when all is said and done, it definitely gets the award as my personal favorite Sylvester Stallone movie of all time.  If you are any kind of action movie fan at all, you need to own Cobra.  It’s the kind of snacks and beer flick that begs to be watched over and over again.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, November, 2011

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