Tuesday, November 15, 2016

KING COBRA (2016)

Written & Directed by Justin Kelly


Where & When: Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood, CA. October 30, 2016 7:15 PM


James Franco, with his curious fascination in gay male culture, takes us on another excursion, as an actor and co-producer, with "King Cobra", a bleak examination in to the sleazy world of porn and a rivalry between two studios, each wanting a piece of a sexy young stud, which leads to frustration, resentment and ultimately, murder. Writer/director Justin Kelly has managed to bring a lighter tone and even some humor to this grim, based-on-fact story but the outcome still doesn't completely captivate.

Stephen (Christian Slater) may appear to be a mild-mannered, local photographer, specializing in family portraits but that is not how he really makes a living. He is the owner of Cobra Video, a one-man operation that involves encouraging hot, young men to engage in sexual acts on camera. His latest find is Sean Paul Lockhart (Garrett Clayton), a very young-looking eighteen year old from San Diego. Insecure and in need of money, Lockhart auditions for Stephen and impresses the director with his natural charisma.

Sean is renamed "Brent Corrigan" and quickly becomes a popular new star. While he enjoys the trappings of his success, Sean begins to resent Stephen's control over his career and finances, especially after being pressured to start a sexual relationship with him. After being denied a proper raise, Sean threatens to leave but is reminded that he's under contract and his stage name is owned by Stephen.

But then Sean drops a bombshell. He was underage when he began filming and threatens to go to the police unless he's released. Stephen calls his bluff and Sean reluctantly reports his story which effectively shuts down the company. The now-legal performer tries to find work with other studios but no one will touch him because of the scandal and the contract.

Only one company expresses interest in hiring Brent Corrigan. Viper Boyz, a struggling, low-budget outfit run by Joe (Franco), an ill-tempered producer/pimp and his damaged lover and main performer, Harlow (Keegan Allen), sees this star as their ticket to the big time. They try to make a deal with Stephen but he refuses. Not willing to accept his answer, the corrupt pair come up with a diabolical and grisly plan to bring an end to contract renegotiation.

"Boogie Nights", Paul Thomas Anderson's brilliant look at the seedy, drug-fueled yet family-like atmosphere of the 1970's L.A. porn industry, seems to have set the high benchmark of cinema involving the world of sex work. "King Cobra" lacks the style and passion of that praised film, having more in common with a Lifetime peril-of-the-week movie. Mr. Kelly's script feels overly simplified and rushed with the events that lead up to this tragedy clearly having to be more detailed and complex than in the way they're presented here. The characters are one-dimensional and have as much depth as what you would find in your standard adult film. Not that I would know personally, of course, it's just what I've heard.

With the exception of Mr. Slater's Stephen (based on the real-life Bryan Kocis and whose name was changed most likely for legal reasons) who convinces as a seductive predator, bringing a soothing menace to the proceedings and to a lesser degree, Mr. Clayton, who charms as the tough but sweet porn star, the performances are flat and uninspired. Two teen icons of the '80's and '90's, Molly Ringwald who plays Stephen's clueless sister and Alicia Silverstone as Sean Paul's clueless mother, make appearances that are far too brief to register and amount to nothing more than stunt casting.

With a salacious story combining the adventures in the skin-trade and a true-life crime drama, "King Cobra" delivers a healthy dose of titillation and sensationalism. The problem is it can't decide if it wants to be a dramatic retelling or a pitch black parody. And it's not entirely successful as either.