A persistent criticism of Hollywood’s recent portrayals of homosexuality is the inclination toward hagiography. And if there’s one complimentary thing to say about Justin Kelly’s King Cobra, it’s that this crime drama does an admirable job of portraying gay individuals as just as shallow and myopic as anyone else.
Based on the real-life murder of a gay porn producer (“Stephen,” played by Christian Slater), King Cobra offers a glimpse into a rarely depicted industry at a time when pornography in general was enjoying an internet-fueled boom (2005, also possibly the last year anyone paid for it).
Writer/director Kelly draws strong performances from most of his cast, which runs the gamut from Gen X (Slater, Molly Ringwald) to millennial (Garrett Clayton, Keegan Allen). Too bad they’re in service of a fairly trite narrative.
As with so many business arrangements — porn or otherwise — money is this story’s key source of friction. New star “Brent Corrigan” (Clayton) resents Stephen profiting off his looks, while Stephen’s wannabe rival Joe (James Franco, approaching peak caricature) is $500K in the hole. When “Brent” (real name Sean) leaves Stephen, a collaboration with Joe’s “Viper Boyz” seems natural. Unfortunately, Stephen owns the rights to the “Brent Corrigan” name. Desperate, Joe convinces boyfriend Harlow (Allen) to kill him. They get caught. The end.
Perhaps more time could have been devoted to the actual investigation if Kelly didn’t insist on shoehorning in/lingering on the video shoots, none any more salacious than your average late-night cable fare, all of which become increasingly repetitive. The unique setting aside, there’s just not much to sink your fangs into.
Written and directed by Justin Kelly
Opens October 21, IFC Center
Available on demand
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 18, 2016