It’s no ‘Boogie Nights’ but this uneven porn biopic is more than just a shallow, sexy time.
James Franco is no auteur. Take this statement on the very basis that he does not direct or write many of the films that are labeled essential Franco material. Still, his level of involvement almost always shows through the cracks, especially in Justin Kelly’s latest directorial effort King Cobra, which Franco produced. The film has aspirations to be Boogie Nights meets Spring Breakers but lacks the absurdity of either. The result is often entertaining, often exhausting, and never not sloppy wet.
The story of Sean Lockhart, better known throughout the gay pornography industry as Brent Corrigan, is well known among pop culture fiends of the early days of internet porn. It’s best not to say why this film exists, as the last 20 minutes makes that evidently clear, but if you don’t know that makes the film more worthy of a watch. At very least the movie, running shorter than 90 minutes, does not waste your time. It begins with Sean (Disney star Garrett Clayton) making the first ‘film’ of his career with Stephen (Christian Slater), the producer/seducer who ends up power hungry and lustful. Slater nails creepy old man and Clayton himself does a superb job of creating the right aura for Brent; young and innocent, yet sexy and physical. As Sean uncovers the truth of business in the porn industry he finds himself not just screwed, but screwed over and out of work. His dreams of being a true filmmaker are dashed. He lacks the support he was once given from his overly touchy mother, played by Alicia Silverstone. This is a boy turned man alone in an unforgiving industry.
Meanwhile, we have Joe (Franco) and Harlow (Keegan Allen) a couple who runs a competing porn site and who do escort work to pay the bills. They see an opportunity for profit and revenge in Brent’s recent hardship and will stop at nothing to take advantage of him. These two characters are the most interesting and inconsistent of the whole film. Of anyone in the film, Harlow is the closest to sympathetic, harboring a dark past. Joe is a fine James Franco performance and not much else. The craziness we’ve seen in Spring Breakers is now fueled by a new libido and a deep seeded love that takes itself out in aggression. When Kelly forces real drama upon these two the result is often laughable. There are plenty of campy moments, which Franco lends himself to with ease, but there is a seriously disturbing emotional core to King Cobra that doesn’t get its due diligence from the script at hand.
It is not just the balls-to-the-wall performance that makes Franco’s trademark stamped so visibly on King Cobra‘s sore right hand. It’s the sex, the humor, the dark turn the film eventually takes. You are exhausted by the halfway point. The sex here sells. There isn’t as much of the stilted porn dialogue and awkward sex of Boogie Nights, but an underlying set of politics that states everyone in the porn industry has sex on their mind 24/7. There is no acting to the work these stars do, as most of King Cobra‘s sex scenes take place out of context of the work, but still genuinely feel passionless and voyeuristic. It’s Game of Thrones ‘sex-position’ turned to 11 and while it leads to a tonally consistent product, it is one that feels devoid of all soul. Like the work of the industry it’s commenting on, King Cobra often leaves emotion and plot behind in order to deliver a story with a pleasurable ending. As a consequence, it leaves you ready to finish long before the climax, wishing you could scrub forward to the end, knowing you won’t miss out on all that much.
We screened the film at IFC Center an event presented by NASTY PIG, HORNET and SVEDKA.
King Cobra is open in select theaters now.