×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘King Cobra’

James Franco plays a gay porn director who will literally kill to work with underage "adult" film star Brent Corrigan.

With:
Garrett Clayton, Christian Slater, Alicia Silverstone, Molly Ringwald, Keegan Allen, James Franco.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5129682/

“I like to think that I’m gay in my art and straight in my life,” Gay James Franco told Straight James Franco in a split-personality interview for Four Two Nine magazine last year. The trouble with the famously ambiguous actor’s revelation isn’t how one defines “gay,” but rather, what one makes of his “art” — the latest questionable example of which, a Skinemax-styled true crimer called “King Cobra,” yields his queerest role yet.

Aspiring to do for the brutal slaying of gay-porn producer Bryan Kocis what “Boogie Nights” did for the Wonderland murders, “King Cobra” is all smut and no soul, a tacky, superficially titillating reunion between Franco and “I Am Michael” director Justin Kelly that finds the “Sausage Party” star on the receiving end of a supersized kielbasa. Franco plays one of two hot-rod-obsessed, ex-hustler meatheads who literally killed for the right to shoot a movie with underage “adult” film star Brent Corrigan, whose birth name was (the even pornier-sounding) Sean Paul Lockhart — played here by Garrett Clayton (“Teen Beach Movie”), the latest Disney Channel escapee determined to take a wrecking ball to his image.

In what might have been an amusing throwback to the old-Hollywood days when stars were routinely rechristened and kept under contract, Lockhart was free to boff whomever he pleased on-camera, but couldn’t do so as Brent Corrigan. That nom de porn was shrewdly copyrighted by Cobra Video mogul Kocis, a suburban Svengali — half-sympathetically played by Christian Slater — who enticed “twinks” (trade slang for yummy young men) into having sex on camera from his nondescript Pennsylvania home.

Referred to here as Stephen, Kocis wasn’t quite so shrewd about checking Lockhart’s ID. The lad was just 17 when he made his first video — a key detail in the hands-on producer’s undoing, although 25-going-on-40 Clayton makes an unconvincing minor, boasting an Alec Baldwin-like perma-shadow where his peach fuzz should be. While clearly determined to make audiences squirm, director Kelly shows a counterintuitive kind of respect for Lockhart, opting not to portray him as the wide-eyed naif, the way Mark Wahlberg so winningly embodied Dirk Diggler in “Boogie Nights,” but rather as a misguided artiste.

This kid has ambition: He wants to be a filmmaker, lying to his clueless mom (Alicia Silverstone, appearing in just two short scenes) about his swell new internship. He’s a quick study whose own directorial career “King Cobra” will parody in its cheeky epilogue — though Kelly takes greater amusement in recreating the low-grade production values of early-aughts gay porn, with their pro-forma scripting and stiff acting, as if the exploitation movie that surrounds them is operating on a much higher plane.

As “I Am Michael” demonstrated, the director likes to provoke his audience, this time serving up as much skin and sex as he can manage without the film itself being classified as porn — although for that to be the case, it would have to be arousing. But the only sexy thing about “King Cobra” is its many neon-lit driving scenes, which suggest “Scorpio Rising,” as reimagined by Nicolas Winding Refn. While Stephen fetishizes his sports cars, that’s nothing compared to D-grade rivals the Viper Boyz: business-minded Joe (Franco) and his otherwise-gifted boyfriend/muse Harlow (Keegan Allen), who dreams of making a porno called “The Fast and the Curious.”

When Lockhart finally works up the courage to quit Cobra — which leaves a humiliated Stephen having to explain himself to a weirdly cast Molly Ringwald (as Slater’s onscreen sister) — no one in the “industry” will take him. That is, until the Viper Boyz strike, attempting to impress him over an extravagant sushi dinner so uncomfortable, one wonders whether a smarmy producer might have tried the same thing on Franco.

While Clayton plays it earnest, the movie lapses into outright caricature whenever Franco’s character appears, making it clear that this latest nutcase is just another tongue-in-cheek invention, as far removed from his true self as the Alien he played in “Spring Breakers.” Still, to the extent that Franco’s recent filmography has teased audiences’ obsession with his offscreen leanings — whether it was making out with Michael Shannon in “The Broken Tower” or pretend-outing Eminem in “The Interview” — “King Cobra” goes all the way, cutting from a campy car wash to the film’s most explicit sex scene, performed for the benefit of no camera but Kelly’s. Consider it another sacrifice for his art.

Film Review: 'King Cobra'

Reviewed online, Paris, Feb. 15, 2016. (In Tribeca Film Festival — Midnight Screenings.) Running time: 92 MIN.

Production: A Rabbit Bandini Prods., Yale Prods., SSS Entertainment presentation, in association with Digital Ignition Entertainment, Simon Says Entertainment. (International sales: Yale Prods., New York.) Produced by James Franco, Vince Jolivette, Jordan Yale Levine, Scott Levenson, Shaun Sanghani, Iris Torres. Executive producers, Michael Clofine, Brandon Baker, Austin Renfroe, Jack Warner, Matthew Helderman, Luke Taylor, Joe Listhaus, John Hickman, Jason Rose, Pichai Chirathivat, Kim Jackson, Ron Simons, Jeffrey C. Leo, Lauren Levine, Marla Lynn Brandon. Co-executive producers, Patrick Depeters, Jo Aliberti, Bernard Brogan, Eric Reish, Paola Brambilla, Tommy B. Wahlder. Co-producers, Jon Keeyes, Chris Zylka.

Crew: Directed by Justin Kelly. Screenplay, Kelly; story, Kelly, D. Madison Savage, based on the book Cobra Killer: “Gay Porn, Murder and the Manhunt to Bring the Killers to Justice,” by Andrew E. Stoner, Peter A. Conway. Camera (color, HD), Benjamin Loeb; editor, Joshua Raymond Lee; music, Tim Kvasnosky; music supervisor, Deanne Reynolds; production designer, Anastasia White; art direction, Bianca Del Castillo; set decorator, Christine Foley; costume designer, Michael Simonelli; sound, Sam O’Sullivan, Rick Reineke; sound designer, Matthew Simone; supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Scott Kramer; visual effects producer, Brad Powell; visual effects, BLPVFX; associate producers, Thymaya Payne, Kamar Ararat Kalpakciyan, Melissa G. Nathan; assistant director, Kether Abeles.

With: Garrett Clayton, Christian Slater, Alicia Silverstone, Molly Ringwald, Keegan Allen, James Franco.

More Film

  • Billie Holiday (1915-1959, born Eleanora Fagan)

    Billie Holiday Documentary Draws Buyers, Concord Boards Project

    Concord, successor to the Billie Holiday Estate, has boarded James Erskine’s documentary “Billie,” which tracks the singer’s life. Altitude Film Sales has revealed sales to several territories. Also joining the project, now in post-production, is the Brazilian colorization artist Marina Amaral. Most of the filmed and still images that exist of Holiday are in black [...]

  • My Extraordinary Summer With Tess review

    Film Review: 'My Extraordinary Summer With Tess'

    Winner of a special mention from the Berlinale Generation KPlus’ adult jury, the family-friendly, light drama “My Extraordinary Summer With Tess” is straightforward youth cinema with surprising emotional depth. Based on a prize-winning novel by Anna Woltz, a beloved Dutch writer of work for young readers, it explores family relationships and emphasizes the importance of [...]

  • UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report: Women, Minorities

    Hollywood Diversity Gains in TV but Falls Short in Movies

    Minorities and women have registered gains in several key areas of television but women continue to lag in movies, according to a report issued Thursday by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. “My basic take is that TV is improving more for minorities and women than film,” said Dr. Darnell [...]

  • Ghost Fleet review

    Film Review: 'Ghost Fleet'

    The revelatory documentary “Ghost Fleet” condemns the modern-day slave labor fueling the Thai fishing industry while focusing on the work of Bangkok-based advocacy organization Labor Rights Promotion Network Foundation (LPN), a group dedicated to ending slavery at sea. Combining chilling testimony from formerly enslaved men, some wincingly arty recreations of their ordeals, and on-the-ground footage [...]

  • WGA West Logo

    WGA Plans March 25 Member Vote on Talent Agency Rules

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America plan a March 25 vote for members to decide whether to implement tough new restrictions on how Hollywood talent agencies as operate as agents for writer clients. The vote comes as the guild is in the midst of pitched negotiations with the Association of Talent Agents to renew [...]

  • Netflix Buys Chinese Sci-fi Hit 'The

    Netflix Buys Chinese Sci-fi Hit 'The Wandering Earth'

    Netflix has bought rights to “The Wandering Earth,“ the smash hit film pitched as China’s first mainstream sci-fi movie. The movie was the sleeper hit of Chinese New Year. It opened in fourth position on Feb. 5 but climbed to the top spot and has not yet relinquished it. After 14 days in theaters, the [...]

  • Michael B. JordanAFI Awards Luncheon, Los

    Film News Roundup: Michael B. Jordan's Hitman Drama 'Silver Bear' Gets Director

    In today’s film news roundup, Michael B. Jordan’s “The Silver Bear” finds a director, biopic “Running for My Life” is in the works, Fox is using new trailer compliance software and the 14-hour “La Flor” gets distribution. DIRECTOR ATTACHMENT More Reviews Film Review: 'My Extraordinary Summer With Tess' Film Review: 'Ghost Fleet' Gerard McMurray, director [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content