Sylvester Stallone repurposed his rejected Beverly Hills Cop pitch into a clash between Dirty Harry and a bunch of Michael Myers wannabes. A cult, led by perpetually sweating muscle bomber the Night Slasher (Brian Thompson), is cutting people up left and right. The police have no leads. Thankfully, they have a man for situations like this: Marion ‘Cobra’ Cobretti (Stallone), a state-sponsored vigilante. Squirreled away in an apartment stockpiled with weapons and a criminal database, Cobra works like a fanatic, every action intending precision. Precision at what, though? Tasked with protecting a witness to Night Slasher’s killings, he instead chases cultists (witness in tow) following an attempt on her life, more concerned with punishment. Stallone embodies ‘tough on crime’ policies, openly spiteful of the idea constitutional rights are for everyone (a picture of Reagan hangs, prominent, in his department office). He’s always verging on throttling some weaselly liberal who dares ask questions (a bespectacled rival cop; a reporter challenging his use of force during a grocery store standoff). Actual criminals are regarded as ‘disease,’ to which he and his armory are ‘the cure.’
Heavily edited and re-shot to avoid an X-rating, the film acts as a Republican fever dream. Action is choppy, continuity errors abound, space is obliterated. Stallone’s hired hands behind the camera, George Cosmatos and Ric Waite, crank up the incoherence to make Night Slasher and his minions omnipresent. Murders occur fast, victims barely comprehending their fate. Downtime consists of standing in industrial rooms, clanking murder weapons in unison with theme music. They seek to cull the weak, creating a “New Order” to humanity. Of course the only thing that can stop them is the latest model Callahan! The parallels between Night Slasher and Cobra–their mechanical natures, disdain for rules, the rending of others into their ideal vision–are left dangling, without comment, half-remembered. Stallone burns out the disease and rides off.