We have a complicated relationship with Cobra, and thus hesitated for a beat before deciding to honor it with this week’s Bad Movie Friday showcase spot. To its credit, the movie does a fine job of conjuring up a psycho murder cult, the members of which gather in warehouses to bang together axes in rhythmic unison. But Sly Stallone’s performance here is beyond unsubtle, and the movie’s message deeply odious. The New York Times nailed it back in 1986:
This film shows such contempt for the most basic American values embodied in the concept of a fair trial that Mr. Stallone no longer, even nominally, represents an ideology that is recognizably American. In one scene Cobra pours gasoline over his enemy. ”You have the right to remain silent,” he sneers contemptuously, right before he throws the lighted match that sets his foe on fire. Later the archvillain, a character that is a cross between a James Bond fantasy villain such as Jaws and a raging psychopath, delivers a scorching monologue – a feat of linguistic sophistication that Cobra would have a hard time matching. The murderer depicts the legal civilities that force police to try to arrest prisoners and deliver them to the courts for trial as idiotic. ”The courts are civilized,” the villain says derisively. ”I’m not civilized,” Cobra answers, getting right to the point. ”This is where the law stops and I begin.”
A quick shot of Cobra’s office reveals an enormous portrait of President Reagan on his wall. This touch is probably meant to call up associations between Cobra and the President, but it does the opposite. The only places in which offices routinely have overblown portraits of the heads of Government are Eastern European Communist countries or dictatorships elsewhere in the world – the kinds of countries where Government officials mock the idea that everyone deserves a fair trial – just as Cobra does.
If you have a spare minute, by the way, we highly recommend this 60-second summary of the flick.