Quick-firing cop Robert Malone (Fred Williamson) takes no prisoners when it comes to his war on crime. When armed criminals hold a group of swimmers hostage at an indoor pool, Malone coolly blasts them to hell. “They’re scum”, growls Malone. “Human garbage.” No lily-livered liberal, he. Meanwhile an antisocial biker gang, whose sole raison d’etre appears to be to mess up anyone that crosses their path, are on a citywide rape-and-kill spree. Fashion photographer Elys Trumbo (Eva Grimaldi) inadvertently stumbles onto their latest atrocity and snaps a picture of their sneering, leather-clad lunk of leader (Bruno Bilotta) before escaping. The photo proves useless, but police chief Max Walker (Maurice Poli) cynically chooses to use Elys as bait to lure the killers into custody. Malone is assigned as her bodyguard. His first duty is to escort Elys out of hospital, but he arrives to find the gun-toting bikers are on the scene and out for blood.
Blaxploitation more or less went mainstream when actors like Eddie Murphy were accepted as leading men, driving low-budget war-horses like Fred Williamson into Italian action films. Black Cobra was the first in a handful of films featuring Williamson as maverick cop (is there any other kind in movies?) Robert Malone and was directed by Stelvio Massi, an old hand at the poliziotteschi genre with minor classics like Emergency Squad (1974), The .44 Specialist (1976) and Convoy Busters (1978) to his name. In fact with his Maurizio Merli vehicle The Rebel (1980), Massi is widely considered to have put a full-stop on the distinctively Italian style of cop thriller, leaving films like Black Cobra lazily riffing on old Hollywood blockbusters. Not only does the opening scene lift its extreme hostage negotiation techniques from umpteen Dirty Harry sequels but the climax has Malone deliver a clumsy variation on Clint Eastwood’s classic “Do you feel lucky, punk?” speech.
While its title possibly riffs on the then-recent Sylvester Stallone non-classic Cobra (1986) and the trigger-happy Williamson echoes his crypto-fascist philosophy, Black Cobra spins a slim variation on the plot of The Narrow Margin (1952) wherein a surly tough guy safeguards a female witness. Glamour gal Eva Grimaldi - who appeared in Ratman that same year (ouch!) - spends most of her screentime simpering or sobbing hysterically and gets no sympathy from Fred (“Hey lady, give me a break from all that noise!”). In most films of this type a vulnerable woman helps humanise the hero, but Malone exhibits as much contempt for the victims of crime as criminals. All of Elys’ attempts to strike up a conversation fall flat. Malone lives for his job. That’s it. And while his oddly nameless partner (Vassili Karis) gives a long speech about how Malone never knew his parents, lost the closest thing he had to a father in an armed robbery and “won every medal in the book” whilst serving in Vietnam (yawn!), our hero remains utterly uninteresting save for Williams’ cigar-chomping charm. At least Italian heavy Bruno Bilotta proves an imposing foe, with his bulging biceps and permanent sneer, looking like Frankenstein grafted Jean-Claude Van Damme’s head onto Stallone’s body.
Massi leavens the bare-boned plot with his stylish camerawork but for all its unrelenting brutality the film still plods. Its shootouts and car chases are imaginative and well-staged but the dramatic meat sandwiched in-between proves undercooked. Sabrina Siani, an actress more often cast as scantily-clad warrior babes in Italian sword and sorcery films, appears in her final role as Chief Walker’s teenage daughter. She gets kidnapped by the bikers in a bid to dissuade Walker from pursuing the investigation, but inevitably Malone takes matters into his own hands. When Walker tells Malone not to risk his life on his behalf, our hero delivers the immortal line: “I’d do it if she were Santa Claus’ daughter!” No, I don’t get it either.