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Featured DVD Review: Black Cobra

May 21st, 2012

Black Cobra - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Video on Demand

Low-budget action films that come out direct-to-DVD are a dime a dozen. They are arguably the most common genre out there, because in some ways, they are even easier to make than low-budget horror films. (You don't need as much money to make the special effects. Of course, you need lead actors that can fight, so that balances out the difficulty level somewhat.) So many are made that it is nearly impossible for any to stand out and almost none have any advanced buzz. This is certainly the case with Black Cobra, which arrived on my desk unannounced. It is going to be one of those rare wins? Or is it a movie destined for the bargain bin?

The Movie

The film begins with Sizwe Biko (T.J. Storm) getting a mysterious phone call telling him he needs to go to Pollsmore Prison, immediately. His father has been in prison for more than a decade as a result of terrorist activities he did while South Africa was under apartheid and now someone is planning on killing him in prison, unless Sizwe can find a whole lot of money to get him out. Sizwe knows where to get some money; he has some family diamonds hidden somewhere. But when he digs them up, he finds he's was setup. He was followed by three men who knew he had the diamonds, but didn't know where they were. He manages to get out alive, with the help of an old friend, but he'll need to sell the diamonds to raise the cash he needs. He has a friend in Los Angeles, Nicolas, that might be able to help him with that.

Once in Los Angeles, he stays with another friend, Mpho, but quickly picks up a tail. It seems someone who knew he was coming with the diamonds is watching him. When it comes to making the sale, Nicolas takes Sizwe to his buyer, Goro. At first Goro tries to lowball them, but Sizwe has done his homework and knows what they are worth. However, all this negotiating was a ploy, because it was a setup and Nicolas and Goro's son, Satoshi (Richard Dorton), are working together. Satoshi and a couple others jump Sizwe and steal the money.

Now Sizwe will stop at nothing to get that money back to save his father, plus get a helping of revenge on the side. We also follow Goro Tanaka, his son, and the two men following Sizwe, as their various goals conflict.

Action movies don't need a complicated plot to be entertaining, but if you are writing an action movie with a complicated plot, make sure you've got it done right. A confusing plot is worse than no plot, and a confusing plot described to the audience in a big expository dump about halfway through is even worse. Black Cobra does just that. It's a clumsy narrative technique, but sadly that fits with the rest of the movie. The acting wasn't strong, even compared to the average for the genre. T.J. Storm has potential to be a strong lead for this type of film, while Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa adds gravitas to his limited role, but the rest tend to only stand out in a bad way. There are quite a few fight scenes, but while T.J. Storm has enough martial arts training to be in a movie like this, you still need a good fight choreographer and a director, and it doesn't hurt to have a few unique set pieces to help the film stand out. This movie has none of that, so the action scenes, which are the main selling point of the movie, are at best neutral, at worst they are a detriment.

The Extras

Extras include some deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and some outtakes. Combined there are a little over 20 minutes of extras here, which is better than a lot of similar releases have, but not enough to compensate for the movie itself.

The Verdict

Black Cobra is not the worst film I've reviewed this year, but that's damning it with faint praise. There are very few aspects of this movie that stand out in a good way. Even if you are a fan of the genre, there are better options out there. If you really want to see it, rent the DVD or stick with Video on Demand.

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