King Cobra **
Starring: Garrett Clayton, Christian Slater, Keegan Allen, James Franco, Alicia Silverstone
Director: Justin Kelly
There was a lot of excitement about this film. Hollywood’s most famous Queer Ally, James Franco, was going to produce and star in a movie based on the real-life story of gay porn icon Brent Corrigan, starring teenage heart-throbs from both Disney and Pretty Little Liars. It sounded like the most marketable film about gay sex ever to grace the silver screen… but unfortunately all its composite parts cannot make up for the fact that the story itself isn’t actually that interesting. Wonderful though it was to see Clayton and Allen frolicking around in next-to-nothing, no amount of eye candy can make up for a flimsy and desperate attempt at a plot.
Brent Corrigan (Clayton) auditions for King Cobra, an amateur gay porn site run by the older Stephen (Slater). An immediate hit online, Stephen ties Brent into a suffocating contract, whilst keeping him almost imprisoned in his home. Elsewhere, rival studio Viper Boys is struggling to keep up with the competition. Harlow (Allen) and Joe (Franco) have mounting debts and are looking for a breakout online star to solve all their problems. As Brent and Stephen’s relationship deteriorates, they see the perfect opportunity to intervene, but Stephen is not going to let his star go easily.
Though King Cobra is supposedly based on a true story, Corrigan has since protested that the film has “bastardised” his porn career. The latter part of the film descends into a cheap thriller, but in reality, Corrigan’s involvement with what transpired was apparently only incidental. Which basically pulls the rug from beneath the film’s entire concept. But for a film that has bent and moulded the truth, the end result is something more concerned with the bronzed and oiled aesthetics than any real tension or character study. The film tries to pass itself as both biopic and thriller, but in dipping a toe in both ponds, its ninety minute run-time mean neither make any kind of splash. By the time the credits role, you’ve seen a dull biopic with a dull attempt to nudge a thrill into its bored audience. But at least it was nice to look at.
Films have been made about porn before. Boogie Nights peels back the layers of the porn industry, examining the psyche of both performers and producers, inspecting the impact the industry has on the individual. King Cobra cannot claim to do the same. Corrigan comes across simply as an airhead and in the scenes with his mother (Silverstone), which clearly exist solely to humanise the person we have been objectifying throughout, there appears to be nothing more to his personality at all. We feel sorry for him, of course, but the true lack of glamour in the porn industry that Franco is clearly trying to emphasise is not supported at all by portraying such a shallow protagonist. And the fault does not lie with Clayton, whose charm, innocence and ability is perfect for this type of part. If only it had been better written.
Slater’s Stephen is a more complex role, but the attempt to explore his motives for shooting porn are unfortunately only touched upon. Franco is suitably sleazy as Joe, but his volatile rages and abusive outbursts make him more into a pantomime villain than a character of any real depth. The only performance with any real teeth is Allen’s, whose devil-may-care attitude toward sex is underpinned by something much darker. However, just like Clayton, any real depth to his character was either condemned to the cutting room floor, or was never really given time to develop.
If you want to watch a shallow gay erotic thriller that masquerades as “true crime”, then I’m sure this is the film for you. But considering the names attached to it, this is little more than trash. A trashcan. Filled with soiled tissues. Franco’s determination to explore Queer Culture had such promise after Interior, Leather Bar, but if this is what he was working toward, I won’t be alone in expressing my disappointment. There is definitely a great film to be made about the gay porn industry, but unfortunately, King Cobra is not it.
OUT NOW ON NETLFIX, DVD AND ON DEMAND.