Cobra (1986) – A Review


A review of the 1986 action film Cobra, starring Sylvester Stallone, Brigitte Nielsen, Brian Thompson and Reni Santoni

Cobra Sylvester Stallone 1986 action movie

We’re hip deep in 1980’s action folks!

Cobra is one of the best examples of a quintessential, stripped down actioner that fans swooned over during the decade. I’m not saying it’s one of the best action films of the 1980’s . Rather it’s about as pared down a representation of the core elements the genre possessed during that time.

All the clichés and genre tropes are heavily poured into Cobra. It’s not so much a script the film follows, but the basic outline and conventions of what defined a cop action movie in 1986.

Sylvester Stallone is Marion Cobretti aka Cobra. He’s a cop who’s called in when all else fails. He’s the last resort to clean up a dangerous criminal mess. He’s a loner. He doesn’t say much and tends to break the rules and makes no apologies for it. With his classic 1950 souped up Mercury (with a license plate reading ‘AWESOM 50’), a matchstick between his lips, sporting mirror sunglasses and having deadly aim, he’s quite a cop character!

The streets of Los Angeles are besieged by a bunch of knife and ax-wielding nut jobs. Statuesque model Brigette Nielsen is a witness to one of their crimes and now she’s in danger. Call in Cobra to protect her from these maniacs and put them down!

Cobra 1986 Sylvester Stallone action cop movieNow that’s the set up and pretty much the whole story. What follows are some car chases, angry police sergeants, a good old police partner friend, lots of shootouts, gratuitous violence and cheesy one liners galore. As the famous tagline declared – “Crime is the disease and he’s the cure”.

As corny as that line sounds, it’s still remembered by fans to this day.

I saw Cobra when it first hit cinemas and even then my friends and I recognized how cliché heavy an exercise it was. There’s not a surprise to be had throughout Cobra.

Stallone is at his egocentric peak in this flick. Looking as cool as possible in every scene, casting his then wife Nielsen as his co-star, Stallone gets to play a Dirty Harry-type of hero. That connection is really hammered at, even casting Dirty Harry alumni Andy Robinson and Reni Santoni for further reenforcement.

The character has all these obnoxious trademarks to make Stallone’s Cobra even cooler and make him look even more like a badass. The movie tries so hard to be cool it bypasses that and just becomes enjoyably silly.

Cobra is essentially a showcase for Stallone to do macho posturing, skirt through an extremely simplistic story and kill a bunch of bad guys to the delight of his fans.

Still, I can’t say there’s not some entertainment to Cobra. There’s a mindless delight watching it. The action scenes are nicely handled and the cheesiness of it all actually becomes a bit of fun. I’m not sure if they were hoping for loftier aspirations when making this, but it does succeed as a dumb Saturday night actioner.

The story is as straight forward as you could get. Nielsen is targeted by Brian Thompson’s Night Slasher (a bad guy name if you ever heard one, also the famed name of a real life serial killer). So, he tries to kill her in a parking garage, she survives. Then he attempts to gut her in a hospital, she survives again.

Sylvester Stallone Brigitte Nielsen Cobra 1986
Stallone and then wife Brigitte Nielsen

At that point, Cobra takes her out to some country safe house to protect her when all the Night Slasher minions descend upon them and Stallone eliminates them one by one.

A final confrontation between Cobra and the Night Slasher in a functioning hot steel mill ends with the Slasher being a cooked piece of beef. Stallone and Nielsen ride off into the sunset on a hog with a toe-tapping 80’s tune accompanying the closing credits.

That’s really about it. There’s the standard cop movie components we get – Stallone’s police pal Santoni who’s meant to add a bit of relaxed humor. Robinson is Cobra’s police sergeant who does a lot of lecturing. The press who descend upon the violent aftermath that Cobra leaves behind. Lee Garrington who is a cop, but also is part of the Night Slasher’s posse.

Cobra grew out of Stallone almost being cast in Beverly Hills Cop. He rewrote the script, extracted the humor from it and eventually pulled out of the project leaving the door open for Eddie Murphy to star in one of the most popular films of the decade. Stallone took his abandoned script for what he envisioned his Beverly Hills Cop movie would be and Cobra was born.

Rambo: First Blood Part II director George P. Cosmatos is credited as the director on Cobra, but there’s speculation that Stallone actually directed it. I believe there’s also rumors he did the directing on Rambo as well. I’m not sure what the real story is. Perhaps hardcore Stallone fans know the behind the scenes stories.

Cobra gets gratuitously violent at times, almost to the point of uncomfortableness. There’s a bit of horror/slasher vibe happening, particularly in the hospital scene where Thompson attempts to find and kill Nielsen.

Apparently the first cut of Cobra got slapped with an X-rating, so things had to get snipped. The first cut of the movie also ran for over two hours. Some more snipping and what audiences ending up seeing has been the hour and half film we all know.

I don’t think the extended cut was ever released, or if it’s even good. I would think Cobra is fine existing in its stripped down runtime. Any added character scenes or subplots would just bog it down and make it come off even more hammy than it already is. Stallone fans are probably just happy with what he does here.

 Brigitte Nielsen Cobra 1986 modeling scene

The acting is…not great. There’s something very stiff that is going on with everyone.

My favorite is Robinson who barks all those standard angry police sergeant lines at Stallone with enthusiasm and drive. It’s like he’s completely relishing acting like the thick-headed superior. His dialogue is so familiar sounding, it’s like he’s reading a script from any 80’s cop movie! The ‘Cobra getting lectured’ scenes are so by the numbers, but Robinson adds a bit relish to them with his energy and snide remarks.

Eventually everyone realizes Cobra is the only man for this job. They literally tell him ”to do what he does best’.

Nielsen is pretty bad in this too. There’s a supposed romance that blooms between her and Cobra and of course you don’t buy it for a minute. It just goes to show that despite having a relationship with someone in real life, that doesn’t guarantee any chemistry is going to translate to the screen. Their flirty bantering consists of stuff like him telling her her french fries are drowning ’cause she’s putting too much ketchup on them.

I always wondered what Nielsen’s deal is in this movie. We see she’s a model, but what kind of magazines are these photos going to appear in?

I also thought it was weird that she spends the entire movie wearing a wig. She obviously has her short hair, we see her pose with it in her snazzy photoshoot montage, but then she sports a wig the entire time. I thought it would be just the opposite. And it’s not like she looks better with the wig. She’s running for her life, she’s sleeping, she’s even wearing her wig when she’s laid up in the hospital! I just don’t get that decision.

Cobra 1986 Brian Thompson Night Slasher knifeAs for the bad guys – they’re just evil bad guys. I think there’s some kind of philosophy and goals as to what they’re trying to accomplish. Night Slasher says something about eliminating the weak so the strong will survive or something. The movie doesn’t dwell on it or offer any explanation. All we need to know is they’re evil and they kill people with ax’s and Thompson has a very unique looking knive. They must be stopped!

Contrived strained moments of supposed levity dot the movie and most miss their mark and they come off awkward. Along with Stallone’s one-liners, it’s supposed to be amusing how Santoni eats junk food and Cobra disapproves. Or how it’s supposed to be so funny that Cobra’s first name is Marion. I think it’s meant as a tip of the hat to John Wayne’s real name. The one funny bit that I always remember is Cobra cleaning his guns with a Toys R Us commercial playing in the background.

Cobra 1986 Stallone Mercury car chase sceneBut if you’re an action fan Cobra will provide your fix. There’s a decent car chase with Stallone and his Mercury. It’s well put together and exciting. It gets outlandish and absurd naturally, but it delivers. It manages to incorporate a few different locales; a highway, an alley and a parking garage. Yeah, Cobra utilizes the old reliable thriller setting of a parking garage a few times.

I always thought it was funny how Cobra has this whole souped up classic car, but he doesn’t have a police siren on it. I guess police lights and sirens aren’t too cool to have on your classic car.

Then there’s Stallone shooting down the bad guys at the end. It almost becomes a shooting gallery at a state fair, with Stallone picking off motorcycle baddies with his arsenal of weapons standing on the back of a pickup truck. We’re treated to watching baddies get shot and falling off their motorcycles. Which afterwards lead to the big smackdown between Cobra and the Night Slasher in that steel mill.

I never understood why Stallone didn’t ever do a Cobra 2. The film wasn’t his most popular flick, but it did make money. Has anyone done any Cobra cosplay? There must be Stallone fans who donned his getup from this flick.

I think Stallone could have milked the character for some further adventures. It would seem Cobra could have become an added character to his roster of franchises. Do what Eastwood did with his Harry Callahan and revisit the character for several more movies.

Cobra 1986 Sylvester Stallone action sceneMore Cobra movies would seem like it would have been easier to do than coming up with ideas and stretching believability for more Rocky and Rambo stories. He could have played Cobra for a much longer haul too. Heck, he could probably still play him today. For whatever reason, Stallone did a one-shot with Cobra.

Cobra isn’t the best 80’s actioner, but if you’re in the mood to kick it old school and revel in the 80’s era of action Cobra will satisfy. It moves at a decent pace and has all the stuff you would want from an 80’s action flick.

Just don’t go looking for anything more than a bare bones action bone-crusher. Expect poor acting and a high dose of Stallone arrogance on display. You’ll get some decent action out of it and can chuckle at all the cinematic 80’s flourishes that are poured onto this flick like syrup on a stack of pancakes.

Yep, they don’t make flicks like this anymore.

“This is where the law stops, and I START.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *