COBRA: A New Kind Of Cop

This is where the ridicule stops and Stallone starts.

Society is breeding a new kind of criminal. It's also breeding a new kind of cop.

Only three people have ever been nominated for both the Academy Award for Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay in the same year. One is Orson Welles. Another is Charlie Chaplin. And the third? Sylvester fucking Stallone.

This is where the ridicule stops and Stallone starts.

If you've ever had the pleasure of witnessing Marion Cobretti -- that name is probably the reason why he decided to go with the nickname "Cobra" despite being an homage to John Wayne's first name -- in all his glory, then you've bared witness to the absolute marvel of what an '80s action movie is boiled down to its absolute essence. Almost every non-idiot loves sweetened and condensed milk, but if you take that same milk, boil it down and render it to its absolute base, do you know what you get? You get the most delicious caramel the world has ever tasted. Cobra is that mother-fucking caramel. Gone are any true levels of investigation. Gone are any unnecessary dialogue scenes or psychological complexities. What remains is only one thing: violent punishment cascading into your face at a blistering speed of 24 frames-per-second for 87 beautiful minutes of action set pieces, homicidal maniacs and radical montages.

But Cobra wasn't always Cobra. Cobra was originally Axel Elly, a fast-talking jokester from Detroit, who found his way to Beverly Hills to investigate the murder of a friend. Sound familiar? What eventually became Cobra started out as a Stallone rewrite for Beverly Hills Cop. Not believing himself to be much of a yuckster, Stallone decided to rewrite the script to match what he does best, and, in doing so, got himself kicked off the project by writing a significantly grittier movie with ridiculously more expensive action scenes. Thankfully, he was allowed to take what he had done and translate it into a movie of his own design. Well, his and Paula Gosling, the author of A Running Duck, which Stallone's screenplay bared just enough resemblance to to warrant Gosling getting a writing credit.

Originally receiving an X rating from the wonderful people at the MPAA for extreme gore and violence, the film needed to be recut from its original runtime of 130 minutes to garner at least an R rating. When Top Gun became a smash hit with Cobra 's release only one week away, everyone started to worry about the film's future and paired it down even further. Stallone removed much of the plot and scenes involving characters other than his own and brought the film in at a lean 87 minutes in an attempt to make it short enough to add an extra screening a day. Critics hated it, the Razzies nominated it and moviegoers embraced it to the top of the box office as it garnered $160 million dollars worldwide against a $25-million-dollar budget.

Echoes of that longer cut live in whispers on the Internet to keep hopes and dreams alive for a restored cut to make its way to our eyes one day. While that may please diehard fans of Cobra, I believe the best possible version of the movie still lives on the 35mm film of which it was originally printed: The movie that Stallone arguably ghost directed for George P. Cosmatos (this and First Blood Part II); the movie that pays infinite homage to Dirty Harry while simultaneously breaking the mold to become the quintessential '80s action movie; the movie that has a health conscious hero cutting a piece of pizza with a pair of scissors and chewing a match to keep himself from smoking; the movie with a character so bold he drives a car with a license plate that reads "AWSOM 50."

We might enjoy more gruesome violence from some scenes, and we would – maybe -- even appreciate some development of the two-dimensional supporting characters. But, we should always appreciate the white-knuckled thrill-ride of a no-nonsense cop out to protect a police witness from a mysterious cult of homicidal axe-wielding psychopaths. Cobra isn't a perfect movie, but it's an essential movie. It's a movie worthy of your scholarly studies, as it relates to a titan of celluloid's history, as much as it's a movie for you to shut your mind off and just bask in the opulence of absolute excess. Sylvester Stallone is a gift from our cinematic lords and he is worthy of your praises. He's created icons for the ages, one-liners we will never forget and he will never give up on us, even after so many have given up on him. If movies had a disease, Stallone would be the cure.

This was originally published in the June issue of Birth.Movies.Death. magazine. Cobra screens at the Alamo Drafthouse this month. Check drafthouse.com for listings.

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