Release Date: Screened April 18, 2016 – Tribeca Film Festival
Runtime: 91 minutes
Rating: Not Yet Rated (but let’s be real..it’ll be R)
Studio: Yale Productions/SSS Entertainment/Digital Ignition Entertainment/RabbitBandini Productions
Director: Justin Kelly
Cast: James Franco; Garrett Clayton; Christian Slater; Molly Ringwald; Keegan Allen; Alicia Silverstone
A movie as salacious and lurid as the story it’s telling, “King Cobra” has its flaws, but is generally an effective, lean, and very mean piece of “ripped-from-the-headlines” cinema. Boasting a cast including James Franco, Molly Ringwald, Alicia Silverstone, Keegan Allen, a hasn’t-been-this-good-in-years Christian Slater, and former teenybopper Garrett Clayton, ejecting himself from tweendom straight into the tighty-whities of grown-up films, “King Cobra” offers a stylish though straightforward, yet not uncompelling, dramatization of this tawdry tale of murder and sex.
Unless you are a regular reader of gay porn blogs (like me) or viewer of gay porn itself (like me), you may not know the story of Sean Lockhart, aka Brent Corrigan (Garrett Clayton), the supertwink who flipped the world of gay porn on its back. As reconstructed in the film, Sean (Brent) gets his start in porn via a man named Bryan Kocis (Stephen in the film and played by a never-been-better Christian Slater), owner of Cobra Video. Boy does Kocis strike a boner and gold when Corrigan shows up! Almost overnight, Brent Corrigan becomes a bona fide porn star under Cobra Video, even having blogs dedicated to him. However, as so often happens in “Star Is Born” scenarios, true or not, eventually the star feels the need to break free from the person who rears him or her. Unfortunately, when there are contracts and lots of money involved, it’s not so easy. Having trademarked the name “Brent Corrigan,” Kocis makes it virtually impossible for Sean to find work in the adult film world since Sean isn’t legally allowed to use the name Brent Corrigan himself. Rejected left and right by producers who want to work with “Brent,” but aren’t permitted to, Sean is forced to return home to his caring, but unsuspecting mother (Alicia Silverstone, the only weak link in the very strong cast). Around this time, Sean gets recruited by a second rate amateur porn site, Viper Boyz, run by the sleazy pimp Joseph Kerekes (James Franco) and his boy-toy lover-come-hooker, Harlow Cuadra (Keegan Allen). They offer Sean an obscene amount of money to star in a film with Harlow, from which they assure Sean that they will all get rich. But the old problem resurfaces: Sean can’t use the name Brent Corrigan. Well, they will fix that! I don’t want to spoil any more of the story, but Google it if you want to know what happens.
Director Justin Kelly makes effective use of the “porn business in the digital age” milieu, invaluably assisted by cinematographer Benjamin Loeb, editor Joshua Raymond Lee, and composer Tim Kvasnosky. To Kelly’s credit, he relates the story as a linear narrative and doesn’t make the rookie mistake of trying to show off using gimmicky flashbacks or framing devices. There may be lots of pretty people involved, but this is not a pretty story and dressing it up too much would have been a fatal error.
As far as the performances, all roles are played with deadly seriousness, never reaching for camp or caricature, which could have been a preconceived notion given the setting. We are essentially watching a true crime story set against a gay porn backdrop, as opposed to an expose about the porn industry. Kelly never plays up the pretty, and even though there is sex (a lot of sex) in the movie, this is far from a sexual movie. Making the leap (more like catapult) from Disney star to mainstream films, Garrett Taylor is appropriately twinkish as Sean/Brent and does a nice job of conveying the wide-eyed naïveté of a young man in over his head. He is uninhibited, as the role requires, and fresh-faced, making a believable object of affection for Stephen and the porn purveyors who want to exploit him. At this point in time, nobody does sleazy like James Franco, and he plays it to the hilt here, making an at times terrifying Joseph. Keegan Allen fits into Harlow’s shoes and is sexy-as-hell without falling back on “dim bulb” stereotypes. Molly Ringwald shows up for a few scenes as Stephen’s sister and does just fine. Alicia Silverstone, really, is the only weak link in the entire cast for some reason. I realize she’s supposed to be a young mother who is more of a best friend than a mother to Sean, but it works a little too well. I get the feeling she is simply trying too hard to be fun and carefree. It’s almost like a high school level performance and it’s nothing short of distracting.
Yet the real standout in this movie is Slater. Perfectly cast as a lonely man approaching middle age, trying desperately to cling to his lost adolescence, he gives a brave, tragic performance that displays a vulnerability we have never seen from him before. Gone are his Nicholson-esque acting tics and in their place emerges a wonderfully mannered and detailed acting style. It’s a joy to watch someone who has been around in films for as long as I’ve been interested in the movies give a performance that shows, heretofore, unseen maturity and depth.
“King Cobra” is not perfect. There are some plot holes so big and deep that you could see China and there are times when the tone of the piece seems to be cashing in on the sensational aspects of the story, rather than just providing a document of events. But all in all, “King Cobra” is a film well worth the watch for not only twink aficionados, but also those seeking a juicy true crime tale to quench their appetites.