Friday, October 21, 2016

Battle of the XXX Stars: "King Cobra" looks stylish but lacks insight


King Cobra (2016)
91 min., not rated (equivalent of an R, maybe).

If it weren’t inspired by a sordidly true story—the real-life murder of gay porn entrepreneur Bryan Kocis in 2007—“King Cobra” might have been mistaken for an adaptation of a Bret Easton Ellis novel or any familiar true-crime potboiler. The characters are lost spirits and every unhealthy or amoral action they make is a cog in their journey to total self-destruction. As a cautionary tale, the film is lip-smackingly lurid and hard-hitting enough, but it doesn’t poke any deeper point or make that provocative of a comment on the gay porn industry itself. Writer-director Justin Kelly makes his sophomore effort, and on the surface, “King Cobra” does ride a bracing wave of cool and titillation with a sleek atmosphere and propulsive synthesizer soundscape. All of the actors are even more than willing, but the script is less so in locating as much emotional depth for these characters. A compelling reason why we should care about any of these people is sort of a lost cause.

Hoping to get his foot in the door of the film industry, all-American 17-year-old Sean Lockhart (Garrett Clayton) leaves the San Diego suburbs for a “paid internship,” or so he tells mom Janette (Alicia Silverstone). Going by stage name “Brent Corrigan,” he is the latest find by Stephen (Christian Slater) of Cobra Video, shooting his brand of gay porn videos out of his own house in his conservative Pennsylvania neighborhood when he isn’t fronting as a family photographer. Soon, Sean finds himself moving in with Stephen, making $1,000 a video and becoming the go-to “twink” for gay porn, at least for a while. Under contract with his name trademarked, the new star is Stephen’s property, but when Sean wants out and looks for work elsewhere, no one wants a stud who can’t go by “Brent Corrigan.” Meanwhile, Viper Boyz hustler Joe (James Franco) and his dim, hunky boyfriend Harlow (Keegan Allen), who works as a porn star and male escort, want a piece of Brent. Then, as they lose control of their finances and have their car repossessed, the Viper Boyz become desperate and decide to strike up a murderous deal with the minor.

As a juicy exposé of murder in the gay porn industry next to the Wonderland Murders, “King Cobra” has a fascinating story to tell and plenty of style on its side, but there’s also a lack of dimension to everyone inside each frame. The performances are decidedly the main source of interest, especially those by Christian Slater and Garrett Clayton. Slater commits to the depiction of pornographer Bryan Kocis, named here as Stephen, and plays him as oily, controlling and pathetically lonely but honestly. As any former Disney star probably dies for, Clayton (TV’s “The Fosters”) branches out with a very adult role for his big-screen debut. The earnest 25-year-old golden boy, who almost looks like he could be the brother to either Zach Efron or Vanessa Hudgens, is pretty faultlessly cast as ingenue Sean Lockhart/Brent Corrigan, and he acquits himself well, coming across as a smoldering blank slate who’s easily corrupted in a role that calls for it. 

Recently showing interest in gay-themed projects (he recreated the lost footage of “Cruising” in 2014’s “Interior. Leather Bar.” and co-starred in director Kelly’s not-yet-released “I Am Michael”), James Franco goes big and rips the scenery a new one as jealous, smarmy and unhinged Viper Boyz leader Joe. As Harlow, Joe’s damaged boy toy who isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed but is just as capable to get what he wants, Keegan Allen (2013’s “Palo Alto”) manages to juggle vapidity and sympathy rather well. Also, Molly Ringwald and Alicia Silverstone are always great to see but are beyond wasted as Stephen’s sister Amy and Sean’s single mother Janette, respectively.

Fortunately, “King Cobra” isn’t made dishonestly palatable for straight audiences. Filmmaker Justin Kelly seems to have gotten away with making the movie he wanted to make and get distributed, pushing the explicit subject matter as far as he can without diving straight into pornography. It’s teasing without being sexy, and Kelly certainly gets the cheaply made, badly acted porn videos right. It’s also tragic as to where the story leads, but there really isn’t any penetrating insight into the characters involved, so the opportunity to be poignant is missed. What "King Cobra" boils down to, then, is a star being born and how not to get away with murder.

Grade: C +

No comments:

Post a Comment