I Saw A Film!
It’s hard to not feel like you’re being preached at about lax criminal justice when the big bad guy himself lectures us about how society keeps breeding and rewarding the violence, and taunts Stallone’s Cobra by telling him that murder is against the law, and so the police officer can’t kill him. He then continues his little tirade by adding that he’ll be let off for criminal insanity. Of course, this isn’t the first or last film going from Dirty Harry (the film does include Andy Robinson who played the psycho in that old rant as one of Cobra’s liberal bosses (remember when Harry is caught by the vigilantes peeking in a window, and he encourages them?)) to Judge Dread to play this sort of game with politics to hype up the rationale for hyper murder. Of course the rotters are pretty freakin’ rotten, and ugly, and so when “the cobra” (as he’s at first introduced) starts not just shooting them but also setting them on fire (“you have the right to remain silent, he quips” as he tosses down one of those old style strike anywhere wooden matches he apparently carries everywhere) we don’t think about them being human beings. They spend their time around trash fires bashing axes together in the darkness as some sort of ritual we’re just meant to accept as ferocious (I like to think about the conversation the gang had previous to this, “Hey, guys, lets like, stand around a fire and hold our axes over our heads and bash them together for a while. It will look really really cool”).
Dehumanizing an enemy is a political operation (south of the border, stealing our jobs, calling us lazy!) and so we get some weird criminals in this film. They shoot groceries and rant about the “new world”. Oh by the way the screenplay is by Stallone himself, and while I was never entirely anti-Sly, a few of his films definitely miss the mark. This is one of the bad ones due mainly to the coarseness of the diatribe. Now, there’s a lot to pick on in this film, but when “The Cobra” is called in to deal with a hostage situation (“another asshole who woke up hating the world”) and all he does is antagonize the guy (“hey dirtbag, you’re a lousy shot . . . now it’s time to waste you”). Well, shit, any dope could do that. Is this guy really their best option?
Soon enough, Stallone and his very cool car (a 1959 Mercury, apparently actually owned by Stallone, which he promptly ruins for the film) are required to protect supermodel Bridgette Nielson (best in Red Sonja). She witnessed the hyper criminals disposing of a body, and with the help of an inside woman (on the police force) track her down to kill her. The main killer (and it’s all they are doing, there’s no larger goal except “thrill killing”, heck this bad guy (with a serious Habsburg jaw) gets off just sharpening his karambit with the spiky handle. Quite a weapon.
Cobra’s world is just violence upon violence, and most of us are easily convinced of a ferocious world, as our lives are not just full of twenty-four hour a day reports of crime, but we’re fed on a steady diet of murder entertainment. The average person on the street could be forgiven for not really understanding that their children are actually in much more danger statistically from their own driving than they are from random violent crime. The main joke here however is that Cobra is supposed to be someone we trust even though his violent response is just as monstrous. Anyone quipping and enjoying the violence is a psychopath, our psychopath or their psychopath. The reality is we don’t want psychopaths. The old cliche of becoming a monster to fight a monster could not be more apt. Yet, we play the game in entertainment all the time. Because we see Cobra as our friend, our hero, and identify with him as the stupid song plays about, working hard, and just getting by. Even when he’s asked why he knows they’re fighting a fanatical army of killers, he responds, “I just know, alright?!” No, that’s not alright. Use your words, Cobra.
I especially like, after a lengthy car chase sequence (the one in which he wrecks that nice old Mercury), that there’s a moment taken for him to show you the specially marked nitrous switch he finally decides to engage. I mean, I suppose you might need to remind yourself why you installed such a switch. Possibly to keep it straight from the ejector seat switch. Shortly after this Bridgette is asking Cobra why the cops don’t just put the bad guys away for good. Cobra responds, tell it to the judge. More lack of words!
Of course, we have reached an age where our law enforcement problems have become big news, and a drive to professionalize them (rather than unleashing them to be even more violent) will likely be the next step. Rather than something called a “Zombie squad” which is the “last line” of policing in this mess.
Cobra is running a few bones on Prime (usa) and much of this film’s attitude would be played for more amusement in Robocop (1987).