REVIEW: King Cobra

19 04 2017

There’s plenty of “period” footage in Justin Kelly’s “King Cobra” to date the film back to the mid-2000s. Videos have that digital grain from the middling quality video camera available at the time. A character turns the lens of a digital camera to face him for a selfie, pre-front facing touchscreen.

Yet of all the things that locate the film in the time, there was one indelible image. Shockingly, in a movie set in the world of gay pornography, it was not something involving explicit sex. (And for those looking for that kind of thing, this isn’t some low-budget Skinemax flick.) It’s the news showing footage of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, summoning a cascade of memories of what it was like to be alive in 2005. The odd mix of malaise, shame and embarrassment provides a fitting backdrop for “King Cobra,” where gay characters of various comfort levels in their sexuality grapple with the era’s repression.

It’s too bad that the film doesn’t just borrow the mood of the Bush era. It also takes the stereotypes. Though based on a true story, every gay character in “King Cobra” fits into some kind of tired, lazy archetype: the young and nubile stud, the predatory porn producer, the aging diva, the jealous lover. The actors play them as clingy, feminine and sexually voracious. We’re talking pre-“Brokeback Mountain” style caricatures here.

If Kelly gave his characters the same texture he granted their milieu, the film might amount to something. Instead, it plays like a traditional show business tale of a young talent (Garrett Clayton’s Brent Corrigan) who allows himself to get sweet-talked by a lecherous Internet porn mogul (Christian Slater’s closeted creep Stephen). The film takes an interesting turn when a rival producer/star duo (James Franco and Keegan Allen’s Joe and Harlow) intervene, but by that point, it’s tough to get invested in anything that’s happening. C+

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