Despite how lucrative it is and the numerous methods by which to access it, porn still seems to many a shadowy underworld shot right under the noses of Ma and Pa America. It could explain Hollywood’s interest in piercing the veil, between Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights and the recent announcement that King Cobra star James Franco will be doing a show about the 1970s porn scene. Interestingly, the few mainstream projects about porn have focused on the heterosexual component, a taboo King Cobra crushes with all its might. Unfortunately, controversy is all it succeeds in generating. Compared to Boogie Nights in both subject and promotional material, King Cobra takes an interesting true crime and covers it in exploitative sex, pedophilic overtures and acting that would make a high school drama teacher cringe.

Sean Lockhart (Garrett Clayton) is a young man with pie-eyed dreams of being a gay porn legend. Renamed Brent Corrigan by his producer and sugar daddy Stephen (Christian Slater), Sean/Brent quickly becomes porn’s new “it” boy. A competing group with its own version of Brent is desperate to cash in, and they’ll do whatever needs to be done to take off.

King Cobra lays bare today’s porn world of DIY fantasies, regardless of sexuality. Porn producer Stephen – the “King Cobra” of the title – creates his fantasies within an average suburban neighborhood where the only supposed inclination something is wrong is how many young boys go in and out of the house every day. With most suburbanites geared towards spotting things out of the ordinary, it’s remarkable just one neighbor thinks to ask what’s happening. Working with nothing but a camcorder and the internet, Stephen and Joe’s (James Franco) companies deal in capturing brief moments, not just the act of sex but the spark of connecting with millions of people online instantly, and the rapid rise and fall of the celebrities born in its wake.

The problems lie with King Cobra’s presentation and overall point. Director and screenwriter Justin Kelly presumably wants to focus on the murder, but that doesn’t blossom until the final 25 minutes or so. In fact, so much time is wasted on the minutiae that days meld together; one minute Brent is a star and the next he’s not, an E! True Hollywood Story told in 15 minutes. With his bumbling line delivery consisting of “Um’s” and giggles, it’s difficult buying Sean as a human, let alone a porn star. Then again, that’s the point. For all Kelly’s attempts to delve into something real, the reality is those watching porn aren’t watching for the acting.

Garrett Clayton’s babe in the woods is a wooden, childlike performance that skeeves more than it entices. It’s a facet not helped by Christian Slater’s lecherous wolf, offering him stardom, juice and string cheese. In an odd parallel with the superior Neon Demon, characters reiterate to Brent how “special” he is. Out of the countless young boys in America he has…something. The “it” factor in a movie requires definition if the acting isn’t superlative enough to convey that, and it’s hard figuring out what makes Brent so special short of his good looks and agile body. Again, that’s probably the point, but if he’s what’s special I’d hate to see what subpar looks like.

The other characters are drawn just as broadly. James Franco’s Joe practically wears boxing gloves for all the times his hair-trigger temper flares up. An attempt is made to give Brent’s foil – the abused Harlow (Keegan Allen) – more personality by involving a dysfunctional family and violence, but it’s dropped in favor of the bright, shiny star that is Brent.

Kudos to Kelly’s ability to nab three landmark teen stars for his feature: the aforementioned Christian Slater, Molly Ringwald as Stephen’s sister, and Alicia Silverstone as Sean/Brent’s mother. The parallels between their teen idol ephemerality implies the film’s two young stars seem poised for the same rise to stardom. It’s doubtful, owever, if this film is anything to go off of. Slater is sufficiently skeezy, while Ringwald and Silverstone cry and bemoan the film’s events.

It’s hard making a murder compelling when it’s the sole thing to jolt the audience awake. At just 90-minutes, at least an hour of the film’s total running time is devoted to sex. This isn’t unusual because of the subject – and is practically demanded – but Kelly finds any reason he can, no matter how small, to engage his actors in sex. This isn’t like Chicago where all the songs are in Roxie’s head; sex happens both on the porn set, and off, with foreplay or narrative drive non-existent. There’s so much sex as to make you question whether Kelly wanted an excuse to get stars like Slater and Franco to have sex on-screen.

King Cobra is less Boogie Nights and more Showgirls, specifically the grungier strippers working at the Cheetah that Elizabeth Berkley’s Nomi is desperate to run away from. Slater and Franco are professionals and they’re fine, but the overemphasis on sex robs the characters of developing personality and telling a story. This is a fairly authentic look at porn production in the modern age and by that I mean nothing happens except for sex, and once that’s over, you just want to clean it up and forget you watched it.

  • Zeroville

    Franco’s awkwardly incomprehensible film offers, at its best, little more than a dime-stor…
  • The Disaster Artist

    We see a middle-aged man’s creative dreams come true. What a story! …
  • The Institute

    One hopes that James Franco is merely in a phase where he is trying absolutely everything …
  • Better Start Running

    It’s doubtful you’ll remember much about Better Start Running. …
  • Private Life

    Private Life is an intimate drama we’ve seen before, but it leads to so many provocative q…
  • Hot Summer Nights

    Hot Summer Nights is a wannabe ‘80s teen comedy, with a dash of Scarface. …
  • Martin Eden

    By the time the film finally ends, most viewers will likely wonder why Marcello made the v…
  • Shithouse

    Despite its crappy title, Shithouse is alternatingly charming and frustrating. …
  • Rediscover: The Saragossa Manuscript

    Torturous history coalesces to shape a film that, while never overtly political, communica…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Better Start Running

It’s doubtful you’ll remember much about Better Start Running. …