dir. George P. Cosmatos
Cobra is the action movie equivalent of a Brian Eno composition; it demands very little of you yet somehow manages to remain completely enthralling from beginning to end. Much like Eno’s ambient soundscapes, Cobra demands so little of its audience that in my opinion a viewer doesn’t even have to actually watch the movie to have really seen it. I’m not even sure if I just watched it, yet I vaguely recall spending the last eighty-seven minutes in a neon-soaked, Coors-drenched world with some dude named Marion ‘Cobra’ Cobretti.
If this minimalist, no-attention-required approach is embodied in any single element in Cobra, then it is surely in its namesake character. Cobra, played by Sylvester Stallone, has no real characteristics beyond the fact that he drives a 1950 Mercury, wears aviator sunglasses, and explodes bad guys. In the movie’s opening moments, he is called for support during a shootout in a grocery store and, to the annoyance of his morally-superior colleagues, he quickly takes out the gunman. The shooter is soon linked to a cult-like group that has been murdering people indiscriminately, and when a model (Brigitte Nielsen) becomes a witness to one of their crimes Cobra makes it his charge to protect her.
In true Cannon fashion, the plot and characters are stripped to their bare essentials, leaving all killer and no filler. Why does Cobra hate authority and protocol so much? What drives the cult to such blood-spilling extremes? Refreshingly, none of these questions are answered, and what we are left with is a kind of standard-bearing, perfect example of an action movie, the kind of movie that plays in your head when someone utters the words “action” and “movie.” Cobra is the movie that characters in other, “better” movies watch in order to escape their own overwrought and tiresome complexities.
Minimalist sculptor Donald Judd commented often on minimalism’s ability to strip art of metaphor and meaning so that the work itself could be appreciated for its own merits. There would be difficulty in tagging Cobra as a minimalist action movie since the action itself is quite maximal (standouts include a fairly amazing car chase and a massive shootout that leaves an entire small town obliterated), but Judd’s philosophy is undoubtedly felt throughout the movie.
No metaphor. No meaning. Just Cobra.