Times Film Critic

The hopped-up, gaseous “Cobra” (citywide) identifies its twisted, scourge-of-the-planet villains right off: television newsmen, and presumably those who watch them; newspapers, and presumably those who read them; wimps in glasses who believe in due process; bureaucratic police officials, so paralyzed by regulations that they can’t function at all, and judges, who consistently undo the work of dedicated one-man arsenals like Marion Cobretti, a.k.a. Sylvester Stallone.

There are others: a whole secret society of scum that meets to grunt and chant and clank enormous double-headed hatchets together, led by as close a match for Arnold Schwarzenegger as casting could provide.

They emerge from swampy bunkers as though from primordial ooze, to mount their motorcycles, flaunt their tattooes, slip their stockings down over their faces and terrorize the entire city of Los Angeles. But they’re no match for Stalletti . . . uh, Cabrone . . . uh, Gaboon Viper.


He blows them away with his submachine gun, hurls daggers into them, sets them afire, lobs grenades at them and impales them on vast smelting-pot hooks. Scum are easy; it’s those bleeding hearts you gotta watch out for.

Since the first “Rocky,” innocent eons ago, Stallone has been paring down each of his scripts, whittling at them like soap bars (“Cobra” is based on Paula Gosling’s novel, “Fair Game”). He’s already done away with characterization, logic, coherent story, motivation, background and more than six speaking parts. Now he’s zeroing in on dialogue.

True, there is the patented Stallone-speak, in which characters tell ya they gotta say what they feel. And they do. However, this is not dialogue; it is twaddle.

For his part, director George P. Cosmatos (“Rambo: First Blood, Part II”) has eliminated modulation, subtlety, suspense. He has kept car chases, artsy camera angles, broad-scaled mayhem and a detailed enough weaponry demonstration to bring tears to survivalists’ eyes. What emerges is a lurid, ludicrous, exhausting, enervating bloody mess thundering at you in vast close-up.

Its story is appropriately minimalist: Topmodel spots Night Slasher; Night Slasher stalks Topmodel; Night Slasher gets his.

Only kidding. No one could sell a story like that. OK: There are 872 Night Slashers; they cut up everybody; they all get theirs. Now you’re talking motion picture. (No, actually you’re only talking Cannon film fodder, which “Cobra” most definitely is.)


Because “Cobra” prizes guns over people, it’s long on weaponry and short on relationships. As a top model, Brigitte Nielsen--whose role is mostly screaming and running--must struggle with her growing passion for Stallone, unaided by the script. However, we know, although it registers not so much as a chemical trace, that they are actually married. And we can assume they have both studied the art of acting together in front of the same bathroom mirror.

Any clues as to why Stallone’s surly, sunglassed one-man hit squad does what he does have been suppressed. “Stallone included a number of extraordinary weapons for the street-tough, big-city detective he portrays,” confides the press kit, “knowing that they would provide insight into the nature of his character.” They do, presumably, if you understand a man better when you know that his JATI 9-millimeter submachine gun weighs a mere 3.6 pounds empty and is only 14.8 inches long.

A man’s gotta do what a wimp won’t, one supposes. And lordy, how Stallone’s world is choked with wimps. And undesirables. Like the marijuana-smoking, hairnet-wearing Latino who takes his parking space. Boy, does Stallone show him. Rips his sleazy undershirt. Tosses away his joint. Sneers right at him. And it works. Next time they meet, that boy just moves his ol’ car like that.

But you can’t call “Cobra” racist. Stallone’s faithful detective sidekick (Reni Santoni), whose tweed cap is his characterization, is Latino too. It’s just a certain element . . . well, you know.

“Cobra’s” pretentious emptiness, its dumbness, its two-faced morality make it a movie that begs to be laughed off. (At the same time that it supports vigilantism, it plays up vicious details of violence: the Night Slasher’s “dramatic-looking 12 5/8-inch dagger, with its blade of 440c stainless steel and its handle made of 6061T6 aluminum, anodized black.” While Stallone comes out foursquare against sugar and for “health food,” his movie is papered with mural-sized Pepsi ads. It’s part of “Cobra’s” total moral confusion.)

But remember that, in signing this actor/director/writer to a six-year, 10-picture contract, Lee Rich, chairman of United Artists, said this week that Stallone should “make the movies he does best”--and then decide whether we should be laughing or crying.