The real life murder of Cobra Video owner Bryan Kocis has all the
ingredients for a promising movie: sex, greed, betrayal, lonely/sad
people, users/abusers, and, of course, homicide, all revolving around a
central character who is as manipulative as he is physically alluring--
an homme fatale, as it were. Unfortunately, though it comes close a few
times to fulfilling that promise, "King Cobra" ultimately fails to do
At the heart of the story is Sean Paul Lockhart (Garrett Clayton), who,
after telling his mother he's going to a film making workshop, leaves
his home in San Diego to go make a solo video for Cobra under the name
Brent Corrigan. Cobra's owner (Christian Slater), re-named Stephen in
the movie, is obviously smitten but grudgingly respects Brent's wishes
to sleep in the sparsely furnished guest room rather than join the
pornographer in his big, luxurious bed. The Internet is quickly smitten
by Cobra's very young discovery, too. Realizing he's got a potential
gold mine, Stephen offers Brent more money to make hardcore videos, and
a star is born.
Among Brent's growing fan base are L.A. rent boy Harlow (Keegan Allen)
and his domineering boyfriend/pimp Joe (James Franco). Inspired by
Corrigan's success, Joe starts producing videos starring Harlow. The
move makes them enough money for Joe to put the down payment on a
coveted Dodge Viper (their video company is even called Viper Boyz) for
his star, but not the kind of cash they want or, as it's later
revealed, need. What would really put them on the map--making them
millions!-- is a video featuring Harlow and Brent Corrigan. Fortunately
for them, Corrigan is just as greedy, and after an acrimonious split
from Cobra Video, gay porn's latest "It" boy is soon spinning into
Harlow and Joe's orbit. But it's Harlow and Joe who spin out of
"King Cobra" has several effective moments, most belonging to Slater
and Allen. As the owner of Cobra Video, Slater's Stephen is is more sad
than sleazy. He reveals that he turned to making gay porn after living
so many years in the closet, and yet he still hasn't come out to his
family. (His sister--played by an unnecessarily cast Molly
Ringwald--still tries to set him up with women.) When Stephen finally
badgers Brent into having sex with him he's in heaven, but is clearly
heartbroken when Brent rebuffs his attempts to cuddle afterwards.
Allen's eager-to-please Harlow is equally sad, his relationship with
Joe--not to mention his involvement in the sex trade--only deepening
the psychic wounds caused by child sexual abuse, not healing them.
And then there's James Franco.
That Franco is in this movie is not much of a surprise: Franco worked
with director Justin Kelly before ("I Am Michael"), and "King Cobra"
caters to Franco's dual fascinations with homosexuality and
pornography. (It's only a matter of time before Franco just gives in to
temptation and asks the Falcon Studio Group to put him in one of its
videos.) Unfortunately for Kelly, he didn't get Oscar Nominated James
Franco. Instead, he got Slumming Soap Opera Guest Star James Franco.
Whatever potential "King Cobra" had at being taken seriously is dashed
the moment Franco's on screen, the actor apparently thinking Kelly was
making a porn parody. To be fair, it's not always clear whether Kelly
was trying to make a gay-themed equivalent of "Foxcatcher" or a satire
a la "To Die For," but Franco's over-the-top performance is completely
wrong in either case.
After Brent reveals he made a few of his early videos before his 18th
birthday, a porn producer for a bigger company tells the performer to
lay low for a while, mentioning that Traci Lords was able to bounce
back from a similar scandal. The Lords reference is fitting for Brent.
Like Lords, Brent Corrigan is a divisive figure in the porn world,
viewed as either a kid who made some bad choices or a scheming little
b--ch. As played by Clayton (much cuter than the real Corrigan, IMO),
he's a little bit of both, leaning more towards portraying him as a
quick learner who's not quite as clever as he thinks he is.
Likewise, "King Cobra" is not as clever as it thinks it is. Like a lot
of movies set in the world of porn ("Rated X," "Lovelace"), it shows
some skin but it doesn't have enough meat to satisfy its lurid story.
Franco, however, provides plenty of ham.