King Cobra – Review (***)

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Justin Kelly’s (I Am Michael) sophomore effort finds itself struggling to decide whether it’s high-trash, low-art or some car wreck combination of the two, and though it doesn’t quite live up to the deliciously lurid potential of its dishy premise, King Cobra still does enough for audiences craving head-turning, left-field entertainment.

The film follows the young life of emerging gay porn star Brent Corrigan (Garrett Clayton), who gets his big break working for producer Stephen (Christian Slater). This tale is juxtaposed with that of two entrepreneurial producers, Joe (James Franco) and Harlow (Keegan Allen), who wish to cash-in on Corrigan’s fast-rising success.

Talk about a movie that just came right out of nowhere, its low-key nature all the more surprising given the presence of Franco and Slater. Sure to pique a lot of interest due to the lascivious subject matter, probably the most unexpected thing of all is just how startlingly tame the movie is in terms of stripping these characters raw, both literally and figuratively.

With Franco serving as producer, one hoped he might have pushed the artistic barrier a little more outside of commercial interests, and if there’s any recent movie that really would’ve actually benefited from full-frontal male nudity, it’s probably this one.

It is, after all, at its core a melodrama not a million miles away from the Magic Mike formula (Corrigan really wants to be a filmmaker rather than a porn star), and while compellingly acted, ultimately a fairly familiar tale. The two parallel plots don’t really intersect particularly memorably until the third act, where of course they lock together in a forcefully potent way.

It’s certainly stylish enough, with Tim Kvasnosky’s moody synth score enhancing Kelly’s observational directorial approach. It’s the performances that carry the pic through and through, though; Clayton has a very High School Musical-era Zac Efron look about him, combined with a little Oscar Isaac, and for his first major movie role, he carries the film surprisingly well. Slater is meanwhile strong as the morally questionable porn kingpin, Alicia Silverstone is diverting as Brent’s mother through sheer power of “she’s old enough to be mother to a teen now”, and Franco is, well, exactly what you expect, though nothing if not committed to the part.

It’s not out-there as much as you might hope for given the no-holds-barred potential of the low-budget project, but the performances do just enough to carry through a curiously off-kilter, quietly sinister yarn.

***

King Cobra is available now on VOD

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