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Cobra / Demolition Man / The Specialist / Assassins


Stallone, you Sly dog, you.

Rod Lott August 31st, 2011

I'll admit it: I used to take Sylvester Stallone for granted, if I thought of him at all. By the time I came around in the mid-'90s — circa "Cliffhanger" — his glory days long had past. His comeback with last summer's "The Expendables" got me all nostalgic for the action films of his prime, and I've been snapping them up as I find them ever since.

cobra

Conveniently, Warner Bros. has given four of them their Blu-ray debuts: "Cobra," "Demolition Man," "The Specialist" and "Assassins." Let's revisit each, in chronological order.

There were a lot of expectations riding on "Cobra" when it came out in the summer of 1986, as Sly's follow-up to his one-two punch of "Rambo: First Blood Part II" and "Rocky IV." Could a third franchise be born in rogue cop Lt. Marion Cobretti? We know now the answer is "no," but it's the one pure Stallone vehicle to which I'd love to see a sequel.

Cobretti, aka Cobra, is charged with protecting a model from the serial killer known as the Night Slasher and his crazy army. Ingrid (Brigitte Nielsen, then normal-looking, but still a poor actress) witnesses one of the Slasher's pantyhose-headed murders, so she becomes a target herself. Many chases, shootings and horrid rock ballads ensue.

At the time, the movie was criticized for its brazen use of mindless violence, which is why I like it so much. It's delicious, well-made, workmanlike junk from director George P. Cosmatos ("Tombstone") and the Cannon Films producers. From its opening grocery-store siege to its closing chain-whipping climax, "Cobra" represents all that was awesome about action films of the '80s. If boredom is the disease, here's your cure.



From 1993, "Demolition Man" opens in the L.A. of 1996, with John Spartan (Stallone) trying to defuse a hostage situation masterminded by coke-snorting Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes), who looks like he dresses exclusively from from the Tommy Lee Jones Two-Face Collection at the WB store.

Then it jumps ahead to 2032, where the two are cryogenically defrosted to continue their outrageous tiff of public property destruction. The difference? Laughs! With thanks no doubt to "Heathers" screenwriter Daniel Waters, the flick has a blast imagining Things to Come. For instance, toilet paper no longer exists, but a fine for cursing does. Also, Taco Bell is considered fine dining. (We're still 21 years away from seeing how prescient "Demolition Man" is, but it already got one thing right: Scott Peterson is on the penitentiary list.)


A pre-"Speed" Sandra Bullock does her goofy-girl shtick, and both Rob Schneider and Denis Leary have small roles from back when they were comedians. (Blink and you'll miss Jack Black.) First-time director Marco Brambilla may not have trusted audiences to pick up on the humor, as he peppers the soundtrack with literal cartoon sound effects. The movie is far from perfect — too loud, too long — but it's a bright spot for Sly's '90s output, proving he could have a sense of humor about himself. All in all, it's a big batch of, as Bullock's straight-laced cop is keen on saying without irony, "joy joy."



Notice how Sly's character's last names in "Cobra" and "Demolition Man" doubled as his characters' description? Same goes for his Ray Quick in/as 1994's "The Specialist." This flashy piece of trash from "Anaconda" helmer Luis Llosa has Quick hired by May Munro (Sharon Stone, still America's reigning sex symbol at the time) via the online Weekend Warrior BBS to eliminate those Mafia members who executed her parents in front of her when she was a child. Says May, all serious-like: "I never thought ... blood could be so sticky."

It's inevitable the two become more than employer/client, and their notorious shower-set sex scene is the stuff of Skinemax. Stone's rear looks so round, it should be studied in upper-level geometry classes, while Stallone's torso is so veiny, it resembles a topographical map.

The Florida/Cuban culture is all over every frame, like TV's "Dexter" but with neon. Everything looks like a Miami Sound Machine video, 10 years too late. Looking snot-slick is all Llosa can bring to the ball of excess (example: An entire hotel room falls onto a poor guy who just tumbled into the ocean moments before.) As a result, you have good actors doing hokey work: Rod Steiger, with his unconvincing Father Sarducci accent; James Woods, with his Caruso-present sunglasses; Eric Roberts, with his feathered hair; and more. Lots of explosions in this one — duh.



Since its unsuccessful release in 1995, I've felt "Assassins" to be really underrated. Although it's clearly too damn long at 133 minutes, it's an overlooked gem in Stallone's body of work, with enviable pedigree: Richard Donner (the "Lethal Weapon" quadrilogy) directing a script by Brian Helgeland ("L.A. Confidential") and the Wachowski brothers ("The Matrix" trilogy).

Playing mostly serious, Sly is Rath (again with the metaphoric names!), a for-hire hit man who's beat to the punch by a new-on-the-scene rival, Bain (and again!), who's played by Antonio Banderas. Bain's keen on killing Rath, too, and things get even more complicated when Electra (Julianne Moore) enters the fray as another assignment. Bain snatches it up, while Rath goes on the defensive to clobber his well-coiffed enemy.

About the only thing in "Assassins" that doesn't hold up so well: Banderas' curls. Otherwise, this is a really effective, engrossing thriller only occasionally hampered by old pro Donner's '90s bent toward excess. —Rod Lott

 
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