BFI London Film Festival: King Cobra

King Cobra
Directed by Justin Kelly
Starring Garrett Clayton, Christian Slater, Alicia Silverstone, Molly Ringwald, Keegan Allen and James Franco
LFF Screening October 6th, 7th, 2016

by Joanna Orland

Justin Kelly’s first feature I Am Michael took a politically provocative subject matter and humanized the true story of Michael Glatze, the former gay rights activist turned heterosexual right-wing Christian.  With Kelly’s second feature King Cobra, the subject matter is even more provocative as the film delves into the world of amateur gay porn, following the true story of porn star Brent Corrigan and the murder of his producer.

When independent porn filmmaker Stephen (Christian Slater) first meets a young Sean Paul Lockhart (Garrett Clayton), he realizes he has a star in the making and christens Sean as ‘Brent Corrigan’.  The two work together to create pornographic films for Stephen’s web site Cobra Video, raising Brent’s profile and Stephen’s bank account.

Parallel to Stephen and Brent’s story is the story of the ‘Viper Boys’ – two rival film producers who want to take on Stephen’s Cobra Video. Joe (James Franco) and Harlow (Keegan Allen) are more volatile than Stephen and Brent.  Their relationship can be violent at times, and their pornographic endeavors take a dark turn into the world of prostitution.

Based on the true story featured in the book Cobra Killer by Andrew E. Stoner and Peter A. Conway, King Cobra retells the story of the famed murder of Bryan Kocis, renamed Stephen in this film.  The narrative is lacking throughout the majority of the film, as Kelly focuses on the development of his characters.  Sex scene after sex scene, the line is blurred as to what is gratuitous and what is moving the story forward.  By the time the tone changes to a true-crime thriller, the weight of the situation is lost as what was a humanizing and very physical portrayal of characters is rushed into becoming a drama about a murder.

The cast of King Cobra is a force to be reckoned with.  James Franco is a longtime collaborator of Kelly’s as he starred in the director’s previous film I am Michael, and has co-produced both features.  Franco is typical Franco in this film, fascinated with pornography, teasing audiences about his sexuality, and playing an unhinged character.  Christian Slater as Stephen is much more restrained in his performance, delivering the dramatic edge that this film so desperately needs.  The small female roles in this film belong to iconic actresses Molly Ringwald and Alicia Silverstone as Stephen’s sister and Sean’s mother, respectively. The inclusion of these women feels more gratuitous than the sex scenes themselves as the female characters are severely underdeveloped and serve no purpose other than to occasionally lecture their male relatives.  This movie is a male movie about male sexuality and tensions, leaving no room for more.

There is definitely a great story within this film, but the pacing is off and the tone misses the mark as it changes from sensual to shocker.  This could have been a heavy-hitting dramatic thriller, but what we have here is a more light-hearted retelling of a fascinating story.




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