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Scene Breakdown: Cobra

By / 03.28.11

Up until recently, I had not seen the Sylvester Stallone film Cobra in its entirely. Then, when I was looking for another movie to breakdown a couple weeks ago, Vince suggested that I do a post on its opening scene. I clicked around the old Google box, found out the whole thing was available on Youtube (note: the scene leaks over into Part Two), and carved out a couple hours to check it out. For research.
Holy crap. You guys.
Cobra is MINDBLOWING. Not in a “I found the documentary Inside Job mindblowing, as it reminded me of a revealing commentary I read in last month’s New Yorker, and-… what’s that? Yes, I will have more pâté. Thank you, Reginald. Now, where was I…” way, but in a “Nicolas Cage’s hair was a bird and it was mindblowing” way. It takes every action/cop movie cliche you can think of, puts them in a blender, and a serves the mixture with equal parts vodka in a plastic Solo cup. It is glorious.
Even better than the staggering number of cliches is the dialogue. OH, THE DIALOGUE. Written by Stallone, it features a number of lines that are so far over the top that they wrap all the way back around and I think end up under the bottom somehow. I’m going to cover some of these lines as we go along, and when I do so, please keep in mind that the man responsible for them was nominated for an Academy Award for screenwriting only ten years earlier. It’s a downfall I can only describe as Shyamalanian.
So yes, you must watch this movie. As soon as possible. With friends. You’ll thank me. But until then, without further ado, I present the opening scene of Cobra

In the interest of time, I’m going to skip right over the fact that the movie opens (OPENS) with an extreme close-up of gun firing a bullet directly at the viewer, and introduce some characters. The well-adjusted, ax-wielding, Dollar Tree Foot Clan you see above are our bad guys. As though I had to tell you that. Good guys are rarely seen chanting and banging axes over their heads in a poorly lit room at ANY point in a movie, let alone the opening credits.
The point here is this: these people are crazy.
As a mysterious man continues to ride in on his motorcycle, we are met with a handful of shots of birds. For reasons I can’t begin to comprehend, director George P. Cosmatos uses the birds as some sort of Greek chorus throughout the scene. Here, the birds are seen quietly perched atop street lights and power lines. This is a subtle way to point out what a calm, sleepy town this is. Surely that man on the motorcycle won’t turn out to be shotgun-toting madman whose antics will frighten the birds away. Spoiler alert.
Seriously though, keep an eye on how many bird shots there are in this scene. I really feel like the director was trying to make a big point here. Perhaps he was hoping people would see this movie and begin to use “Cosmatos’ Birds” in place of “Chekhov’s Gun.” This did not happen, probably for two major reasons: 1) It is dumb. 2) So are birds.
As our antagonist walks into the store, we see this title card. A little Googling reveals that the book this movie was on based on was also the source material for the Billy Baldwin/Cindy Crawford film Fair Game. For those of you unfamiliar, this is the trailer for that movie.

First of all, this movie is twelve kinds of terrible with a cowboy hat on. Second of all, I’m pretty sure whoever wrote the voiceover for that trailer thought it was a romantic comedy. Which makes the fact that they brought in scary-voiceover-guy to read it hilarious to me. That should be a thing, “Romantic comedy trailers read in horror movie voice.” Get on that, Internet.
Anyway, what I’m getting at is that Paula Gosling slaved over creating a book that eventually became used as a vehicle for Sylvester Stallone to wear sunglasses a lot and Cindy Crawford to wear a clingy tank top that she periodically took off. If she hasn’t committed suicide thirty times, we should promote Paula Gosling to Queen for these contributions to society.
Ok, back to Cobra.
The maniac walks into the grocery store, casually removes his sunglasses and trenchcoat, and begins rolling down the aisles with a shotgun. Here we see a watermelon get got. Other targets of his rage include:
Boxes that, based on the following image, were filled with pure hydrogen…
… and a shopping cart that was apparently on a trampoline. But then he starts turning on the people. In doing so, he is responsible for one of the all time dick moves in cinema history.
That’s a dude getting shot in the back, which is a dick move in its own right. But what immediately precedes it makes it worse. The maniac spots him hiding, and menacingly holds the shotgun under his chin before telling him to get out of there… specifically saying “You’re free.” So the dude starts walking down the aisle, clearly relieved, only to hear the shotgun pump behind him. He tries to run to no avail, and takes two blasts to the back before slumping to his death in a Christmas tree.
I don’t know exactly who is in charge of these sorts of things, but I want this officially on the record: I do not want to die like this. The crazed maniac, the getting shot in the back, the dying inside a Christmas tree… no thank you to ALL of it. If it can be arranged, I’d prefer the following ways to die:
1) At age 75, of a heart attack, during coitus with a busty woman 50 years my junior.
2) Drowning while swimming in pool of gold coins.
Thank you.
To deal with this madman, the police bring in Stallone’s character, Marion “Cobra” Cobretti. Cobra is a member of the Los Angeles Police Department’s “Zombie Squad.” He wears a leather jacket and sunglasses pretty much at all times, often to the apparent detriment of his police work. Also, he is always chewing on a match. Yes. A MATCH. This raises a number of questions, most notably, “Why/How did Sylvester Stallone decide on a match as the object of Cobra’s oral fixation?”
Luckily, I’ve obtained Stallone’s notes on the subject. (Note: FILM DRUNK EXCLUSIVE. MUST CREDIT DANGER GUERRERO.)
Oh, additionally, this is actually and for serious Cobra’s license plate in the movie.
After arriving in dramatic, tire-squealing fashion, Cobra meets up with Poppy from “Seinfeld” to get the skinny on the situation. They have the following exchange.

Cobra: How bad is it?
Poppy from “Seinfeld”: It’s bad.
Cobra: Any ID on the guy?
Poppy from “Seinfeld”: Just another asshole who woke up hating the world.

“Just another asshole”? A little casual there, aren’t we, Poppy? You know, considering there is, at that very moment, a madman unloading a shotgun in a grocery store. Occasionally into people. For no apparent reason. I know policemen can get jaded after a long time on the job, but come on.
Still, that is not the best dialogue in this scene. Not even close. We’ll get to that.
Cobra enters the grocery by himself. Despite the interior of the building being a) dark, and b) not outside, he does not take off his sunglasses. Because why would he? Vision is for pussies.
After sneaking around and dodging a bullet or two, he hatches a plan to distract the shooter. He grabs a can of Coors, opens it, takes a sip, and throws to create a sound that wilDID HE REALLY TAKE A SIP OF THE BEER FIRST? Ok, this is a ridiculous turn of events. Again, there are hostages, corpses, and a betrenchcoated man brandishing a weapon within a few dozen feet of him, and Cobra’s sipping a beer? That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen in a movie.
On the other hand, who am I to question the director’s vision? I’m just a novice. I mean, I’ve barely used ANY birds in this post to get my narrative across.
Buckle in kiddies. It’s time for some crappy dialogue. Cobra grabs the intercom to deliver the following message:

Cobra: You’re a lousy shot. I don’t like lousy shots. You wasted the kid… for nothing. Now I think it’s time to waste you.

Ok, someone explain something to me. Cobra doesn’t like bad guys who are lousy shots? If this guy wasn’t a lousy shot, this would have been a very short movie called Idiot Cop Dies in a Grocery Store. On the bright side, the police academy could show it during the “Take Off Your Sunglasses During An Indoor Firefight” unit. Think of the lives that could be saved.
Also, this guy isn’t actually that lousy a shot. He hit the watermelon, the boxes, that kid, and the beer can Cobra threw all on his first try. He’s doing all he can, Cobra. Cut him some slack.
Cobra eventually corners the maniac in a freezer, where he is holding a number of people hostage with a both a shotgun and a bomb. Our two adversaries take part in a negotiation that will likely be taught in screenwriting classes for decades… nay, CENTURIES to come:

Maniac: Come on, man. I got a bomb here. I’ll kill her. I’ll blow this whole place up.
Cobra: Go ahead. I don’t shop here. [dramatic pause] Alright, just relax amigo. You wanna talk, we’ll talk. I’m a sucker for good conversation.
Maniac: I don’t wanna talk to you. Now you bring in the television cameras, now! Come on, bring ‘em in!
Cobra: Can’t do that.
Maniac: Why?
Cobra: I don’t deal with psychos. I put ‘em away.
Maniac: I ain’t no psycho, man! I’m a hero! You’re lookin’ at a f**kin hunter! I’m a hero in the New World! [ed. note - OW-OOOO]
Cobra: You’re the disease. I’m the cure.

Cobra proceeds to throw a knife in his heart, scream “Drop it!” then put a handful of bullets in him before giving him a chance to, you know, drop it. Big whoop. It’s all a letdown after that dialogue, stiffly delivered by Sylvester Stallone (again, in a part he wrote for himself).
Here’s what I like most about that dialogue: it’s not like Sly just showed up on set, delivered the lines, they slapped the movie together, and mailed it to the theaters. It had to go through producers, executives, rewrites, test screenings, and a mess of other red tape to get to the screen. And yet, “You’re the disease. I’m the cure,” made it through. Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Come on, DG. It’s just one line in the movie. It’s not like they used it as the tagline for the movie and put it on the poster along with the equally hilarious line ‘The strong arm of the law’ or anything.”
Oh really, fictional smartass I just created?

Ahem.
I’m going to stop here, both for your sake and my own. But please believe, I could have easily turned this into a 140-page slideshow breaking down the whole movie, or a six-part weekly feature where I took it apart fifteen minutes at a time. Hell, I may still double back and breakdown more scenes in this movie at a later date. For example, there is a car chase in Part Five that features Cobra using NOS. IN 1986! And in another scene, as he and Brigitte Nielsen are holed up in a motel, he unloads a bag of weapons to prepare for a shootout that contains not one, not two, but three grenades. Then he turns to Brigitte Nielsen and sincerely wonders why she isn’t able to get to sleep, as though she has not spent the majority of the film on the run from ax-wielding psychopaths with a police officer who carries grenades. GRENADES.
So, yes. Everyone must watch this movie.


TAGSCOBRADANGER GUERREROSCENE BREAKDOWNSYLVESTER STALLONE

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