Movies From the Black Lagoon: Cobra Mission

Movies From the Black Lagoon
Cobra Mission - 1986, Rated R
By Tom Doty

Four retired soldiers go back to Vietnam to free American POWs in this Italian action flick that came a little late to the "Rambo" party.
When it comes to genre flicks there are few countries that do it better than Italy. Their gritty westerns still inspire filmmakers, as do their flashy horror films that were heavier on gore and titillation than plot. The joy of Italian junk cinema has always been their ability to deliver great visuals while giving a backseat to logic and character development.
This effort starts off with two soldiers on the run after breaking out of a prison camp south of Hanoi. The men are in pretty bad shape thanks to years of malnutrition and torture. One is caught easily so he surrenders but that does not make a difference to his pursuers who pounce on him with knives and slash the poor guy to ribbons. His friend runs on and actually makes it home (as we'll learn later).
Meanwhile we meet four ex-soldiers who are having trouble readjusting to civilian life. They can't hold down regular jobs or relationships but they manage to find each other and are soon reliving old times. They are in a bar when they spot a report on a soldier who has returned home following the escape we glimpsed at the start of the film. They opt to go back to Vietnam and rescue the ones left behind.
They team up with a priest who runs a mission their and he equips them for the job and gets them transportation. They get to try out their guns on a patrol boat in a sequence that was lifted straight form 'Apocalypse Now." Next they attack a village and steal a truck that they plan to use on their first rescue.
The rescue does not go according to plan. Turns out you should never let the guy with the itchiest trigger finger up front cause he is liable to start shooting a soon as he spots a guy that looks like the one who tortured him back when he was a prisoner. This leads one of the guys to make an ugly comment about the enemy all looking alike but we'll forgive that as action moves don't have to be nice, they just have to have an explosion every ten minutes.
They succeed in liberating a camp and lead the men through the jungle for a helicopter pick-up. This sequence leads to an amazing finale that sees the whole operation (which has thus far gone very easily) collapse under the weight of modern day politics. The somber tone of the ending saves what has been a lack luster effort from becoming a total loss.
This is not a great film but it could have been. The problem is not the budget. They actually have lots of great scenery, actors, and equipment. The script is kind of lame but what really sinks this is the director. He absolutely refuses to put the camera where it will capture something interesting. A prime example is all of the scenes set on the river. We hardly see anything from the point of view of the characters or the boat. Instead the camera hides behind trees on shore as if it's spying on the action but afraid to get close. Then you have the generous use of close ups. This is a technique usually used to disguise a low budget but here it drives you crazy as the locations are very scenic but we only spot their edges as the camera tends to park itself on each actor's face so closely that it fills up 80 percent of the screen. The actors try hard (especially Christopher Connelly as their leader) but there isn't much for them to do.
There are worst ways to spend an hour and a half. Believe me, I've seen "Cobra Mission 2". This movie is for Vietnam completists and bad cinema fans only.
Bets Line: "He said you're a suck-fish."

Tom Doty occasionally emerges from the Lagoon to check his e-mail and to read to children every Wednesday at 10:30am at Borders in Hagerstown. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to: