Monday, August 9, 2010

End of the Road for 'Black Cobra'

Black Cobra 3: The Manila Connection (1987)
Starring: Fred Williamson, Forry Smith, Debra Ward, and David Light
Director: Don Edwards
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Chicago police detective Robert Malone (Williamson) travels to the Philippines to work on a joint CIA/Interpol mission to recover or destroy a cache of stolen weapons and prevent a hi-tech blackmailer from exposing CIA operations around the world.

"Black Cobra 3" is an improvement over "Black Cobra 2", but it's not quite as good as the original in the series. Once again, the one thing that made Malone more than just another third-rate action hero has been left out... his pet cat. In fact, he's even less of a character here than he was in the previous installments of the series--here, he's simply a generic action hero who beats up or guns down scads of bad guys because duty to country and the son of an old army buddy calls. (Those are fine motivations, but a little bit of character flavor for Malone would have been nice.)

Speaking of the script, overall it's a little better than the two previous outings, but ultimately it ends up disappointing because it is so predictable. There's a mole in the CIA that's leaking every move Malone and his colleagues make to the bag guys, and there's only one possible suspect for who it might be. (Yeah, the writer makes a halfhearted attempt to spread the suspicion around, but it seems clear that no great degree of thought went into this script other than "how to get the characters from one fight to the next, and from the shoot-out to the exploding secret hideout?"

The fight scenes are as well photographed in this film as they were in the two previous films, and there seems to have been enough of a budget this time out to do some rehearsals and real choreography. The bigger budget is also evident in the many shoot-outs and explosions, not to mention the escape-by-helicopter during the film's climactic battle in the secret mountain hide-out of the villains. (The fact that Fred Williamson's acting seems better in this film than the previous outings may also be a result of a bigger budget; he's being paid enough to actually work instead of just showing up and running lines.)

One that that isn't better in this installment is the dubbing. Often, lip movements are noticeable different from what is heard on the soundtrack--even for the English-speaking actors who did their own dubbing like Williamson--and early in the film the attempt to match the dialogue to the lips is so badly done that it sounds like the voice actors either didn't understand the lines they were speaking, or they were being directed by a drunk Christopher Walken impersonator of limited talent. The random pauses in the middle of sentences, and the weird inflections make very simple exchanges tricky to follow.

"Black Cobra 3" is the end of a trilogy of action movies that teeter on the brink between mediocre and bad. The most remarkable thing about the series is that the main character, Malone, seemed to devolve into more of a generic action hero as the films progressed instead of grow. That's noteworthy, as most series characters tend to become more defined, not less.

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