LFF 2016: King Cobra Review

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Despite his A-lister status, James Franco isn’t one to shy away from daring roles. His audacious turns in Spring Breakers and 127 Hours have proven him a bold and diverse talent. In Justin Kelly’s King Cobra Franco tackles yet another contentious character, playing hot-headed gay porn producer Joe. It’s Franco’s second collaboration with Kelly after he starred in his directional début I Am Michael, but this time around Franco is very much a support player in a story based on the real-life murder of gay porn producer Bryan Kocis (named Stephen for the film) in 2007.

Garrett Clayton stars as Sean Paul Lockhart, a tanned teen and aspiring filmmaker who adopts the alias of Brent Corrigan when he enters the porn industry through producer Stephen’s (Christian Slater) amateur gay porn website, Cobra Video. The film starts as it means to go on with grainy footage of Lockhart’s masturbatory audition tape while Stephen, barely able to control his own urges, whispers lustily “They are going to love you.” This isn’t a film scared to delve into its pornographic premise and there’s a plenty of wild, graphic sex on show here but it never feels gratuitous. A slick, fantastically funny montage of Lockhart’s rise to fame in the porn industry is one of the film’s stand-out moments, parodying the low-production values, wooden acting and incidental plotting of early internet porn movies.

Stephen’s home-run business soars thanks to Brent Corrigan’s increasing popularity but Lockhart soon realises his value and demands a bigger slice of the pie. An ugly fall-out ensues which sees both their reputations tarnished and queues the involvement of opportunist Joe and his boy-toy/co-worker Harlow (Keegan Allen). The pair run a smaller, less successful enterprise named Viper Boys, while their extravagant lifestyle has put them half a million pounds in debt. Joe hatches a plan to escape their debt by enlisting Lockhart to star alongside Harlow in a new Viper Boy’s video (entitled ‘The Fast and the Curious’) and he will stop at nothing to make it happen.

Kelly’s contained, intersecting approach to this ripped-from-the-headlines story endows the film with an intimacy and tautness and allows us to become entangled and empathetic with each character’s predicament. However, the film’s ending squanders this effective build up in a rushed spurt of drama which is awkwardly wedged into the last ten minutes of the narrative. Strong acting across the board does somewhat atone for this; Clayton provides a charismatic, lively lead performance while Franco puts in a fabulously unhinged turn.