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“King Cobra” is best when everyone keeps their clothes on

Sean Paul Lockhart plays Brent Corrigan the porn star who helped police solve a crime.
Photo credit:
IFC Films

“King Cobra” stars James Franco in yet another gay character role, in this his second film directed by Justin Kelly.

The two worked together in another true-life gay headline drama called “I am Michael” in 2015.

In “Cobra” we follow the birth of a young real-life pornography star named Brent Corrigan, né Sean Paul Lockhart.

Corrigan has told his mother (Alicia Silverstone) that he's nabbed a paid internship in another city, but  actually he's living with the older, closeted Stephen (Christian Slater) who makes amateur one-man skin flicks on his living room couch.

He discovers the young Lockhart, gives him the stage name Brent Corrigan, and suddenly they become a successful adult film power duo. Stephen begins to ditch the solo idea and adds more men to the movies, making Corrigan a recognized industry name.

Meanwhile, in a separate story line, Joe (James Franco) and his partner Harlow (Keegan Allen) try to make a living as San Diego escorts. The older Joe is not as much in demand anymore and the PTSD-affected Harlow must carry the weight by getting booked by creepy men with foot fetishes.

These two stories play out side-by-side, until Corrigan gets tired of being the twink in the ivory tower and leaves Stephen to find a place and career of his own.

The two stories intersect and that’s when tragedy strikes.

“King Cobra” plays more like a drama than a mystery, but even in those times the gratuitous sex scenes elicit some laughs even when the characters aren’t making X-rated videos.

The film also loses some points for throwing the whole “gay men are victims” dichotomy back into the dark ages of American cinema. Not one gay man in the film seems to have an ounce of confidence and when he does, it’s brief and out of desperation and circumstance.

Slater has by far the best performance as a closeted man who seeks the attention of latter-teen boys then seduces them with his camera and false promises of wealth. His performance, though still falling slightly into the realm of the “pathetic aging queen” at least evokes some humanity into an otherwise skin-deep film.

Disney star Garrett Clayton (Teen Beach Movie) who plays Corrigan has taken a chance here and he holds up pretty well despite the slipshod script.

Although it is never clear why, in his popularity, Brent remains so secluded and reclusive; he seems outgoing and Stephen doesn’t have him shackled to the bedpost. He also seems bright enough to know he could leave at any time.

In one scene a nosey neighbor approaches Brent as he is taking out the trash and asks why so many young men come and go from the suburban home. He confidently tells her they are making gay porn. 

As for Franco, he seemed to take a page from the “Showgirls,” book of over-the-top sex acting, infusing sex scenes with laughable dirty talk and porno language.

These terms, when heard out of context seem like parody, and it made me chuckle.

Hopefully this wasn’t intentional on the director’s part because that would mean his only motivation was gay exploitation, which may or may not be the case anyway.

I admired Keegan Allen (Pretty Little Liars) as Harlow, yet another tragic character who must traverse Franco’s controlling and abusive type and still try to tamper his own demons.

But again, one is reminded that the men in this film are nothing more than straight-acting pathetic numbskulls who are destined to repeat the tragic Hollywood archetypes gay men had to endure in the 70’s and 80’s. Keep in mind “King Cobra” is set in 2007.  

“King Cobra” is not a bad film. Technically it’s a good achievement as the main story gets compounded then converged in the last thirty minutes.

There is plenty of sex, although you won’t see any actual appendages; some actors get gratuitous with their rear ends. Simulation is the mode of titillation and time-after-time I thought what’s the point? An annoying broadside to the flow of the narrative. 

With strong performances and crafty dual storyline "King Cobra" will satisfy those who want an alleged look into a famous crime with ties in San Diego, but Kelly could have sacrificed some of the skin and tragedy to give at least one character the freedom to be gay without shame. I'm sure most of the audience is smart enough to figure out porn is not real-life, still any path that is darkened by the catering of human indulgence is fraught with legitimate pain.

Unfortunately, “King Cobra’s’ only hero exploits himself in the end and gay cinema has become so much more than that and so seemingly has the real "Brent Corrigan." 

"King Cobra" is available to rent or own on most streaming services starting Friday, October 21.