Three Action Films from Warner
Cobra (August 9/11)
Though it often borders on parody, Cobra ultimately establishes itself as an exciting, blisteringly-paced actioner that benefits substantially from Sylvester Stallone's engrossing work as the title character. Stallone stars as Marion "Cobra" Cobretti, a loose-cannon cop who is tasked with protecting the one person (Brigitte Nielsen's Ingrid) that can identify a notorious serial killer named the Night Slasher (Brian Thompson) - with the unapologetically thin storyline used primarily as a jumping-off point for a series of entertainingly over-the-top action sequences. Director George P. Cosmatos does a superb job of instantly luring the viewer into the (admittedly dated) proceedings, as the filmmaker, working from Stallone's screenplay, opens the movie with an electrifying sequence in which Cobretti swiftly (and violently) deals with a supermarket-based hostage situation - with the scene immediately establishing Stallone's character as a remarkably laid-back badass (eg after the psycho warns that he'll blow the store up, Cobretti casually remarks, "Go ahead, I don't shop here.") It is, as such, not surprising to note that Stallone's charming, consistently engaging performance plays an integral role in cementing Cobra's success, with Stallone's idiosyncratic choices (eg Cobretti's bizarre method for eating a slice of pizza) effectively setting the central character apart from his myriad of tough-guy movie brethren. And although the movie does suffer from a slight lull in the buildup to the final showdown (eg Cobretti's romance of Nielsen's character is as pointless and perfunctory as one might've feared), Cobra bounces back for an absolutely enthralling climax revolving around Cobretti's single-handed battle against dozens of armed thugs - which ultimately confirms the movie's place as a woefully underrated entry in the '80s action-movie canon.
Demolition Man (August 11/11)
Demolition Man casts Sylvester Stallone as John Spartan, a tough-as-nails cop who manages to take down his notorious nemesis (Wesley Snipes' Simon Phoenix) during an especially brutal battle - with problems emerging as it becomes clear that Spartan's antics have resulted in the deaths of several hostages. Spartan and Phoenix are both forced to serve their sentences in a newly-formed "Cryo Prison," where, decades later, Phoenix manages to escape and begins wreaking havoc within the now-peaceful landscape. (Spartan is, of course, subsequently unfrozen and tasked with bringing Phoenix to justice once more.) Though it's clearly been designed to operate as a fast-paced thriller, Demolition Man is, for the most part, far more effective as a fish-out-of-water comedy - as filmmaker Marco Brambilla has suffused the proceedings with disappointingly (and curiously) inert action sequences that eventually wear the viewer down. It's clear, then, that the film is at its best when focused on Spartan's exasperated efforts at blending into his new surroundings, with the inclusion of several laugh-out-loud funny comedic misunderstandings (eg Spartan's growing irritation with the notorious three seashells) ensuring that Demolition Man remains surprisingly watchable through much of its midsection. The film begins to fizzle out demonstrably as it progresses, however, as Brambilla, working from a script by Daniel Waters, Robert Reneau, and Peter M. Lenkov, becomes more and more concerned with Spartan and Phoenix's tedious cat-and-mouse games - with the less-than-engrossing atmosphere compounded by an increased emphasis on the tiresome exploits of several underground rebels (including Denis Leary's Edgar Friendly). The end result is a sporadically amusing yet pervasively underwhelming bit of early '90s cheese, which is a shame, certainly, given the strength of both Stallone and Snipes' work here.
Executive Decision (August 13/11)
A smart, adult thriller, Executive Decision follows a mild-mannered intelligence analyst (Kurt Russell's David Grant) as he and a group of commandoes successfully board a commercial airliner that's been taken over by vicious terrorists - with the film, for the most part, revolving around the team's ongoing and surprisingly meticulous efforts at taking down the armed evildoers. It's an inherently captivating premise that's primarily employed to enthralling effect by Stuart Baird, although it's just as clear that Baird does take his time in wholeheartedly drawing the viewer into the proceedings - as the movie boasts an entertaining yet far-from-engrossing opening half hour that's devoted primarily to exposition and character development. This deliberateness pays off exponentially once the action shifts to the aforementioned airplane, however, with the inclusion of several tense, thoroughly compelling sequences - eg Grant and the soldiers board the plane, a co-pilot discovers the would-be saviors' presence, etc, etc - triggering the film's transformation from a solid actioner into a seriously (and unexpectedly) enthralling piece of work. The film's midsection, which consists primarily of stand-alone set pieces detailing the heroes' airborne exploits, manages to sustain an atmosphere of pervasive suspense that proves impossible to resist, and there's little doubt that the action, when it does come, is far more exciting and electrifying than one might've anticipated. It's subsequently fairly easy to look past a slight case of overlength that crops up towards the end - eg how many close calls for the good guys do we really need? - with the end result one of the more impressive thrillers to come out of Hollywood in quite some time.