King Cobra is an erotic, venomous thriller loaded with cheesy porn-actor charm and equally perverse darkness. Only a true story could be this twisted, and only in the world of sleaziness and fame could egos rationalize murder as a way to beat the competition. In fact, writer/director Justin Kelly creates more believable motivations for Joe Kerekes and Harlow Cuadra than their real accounts detail. Kelly’s sinful slice of “twink” exploitation somehow creates a more believable scenario than reality by under-exaggerating where cinema typically exploits. The Viper cars, trademarked names, predatory advances – welcome to the flashy, ferocious underworld of sex, lies and videotapes.
Garrett Clayton stars as Sean Paul Lockhart AKA Brent Corrigan, a young phenom pornstar who becomes an overnight sensation thanks to Cobra Video. He lives with “King Cobra” himself – Stephen (Christian Slater) – who writes and directs twink-centric videos from his suburban abode. On the other side of the spectrum are the Viper Boyz – Joe (James Franco) and Harlow (Keegan Allen) – whose lavish lifestyles make them the playboys of the underground porn circuit.
Sean is enjoying his fame as “Brent Corrigan,” but realizes that Stephen may be reaping all the benefits from his immense stardom. He tries to leave Cobra, only to find Stephen trademarked the name “Brent Corrigan,” which prevents Sean from getting future work. Studios want Brent, but only the Viper Boyz want him bad enough to do something about it – something that will shake an entire industry.
For a movie about porn, King Cobra is brimming with passionate performances starting with the young Mr. Clayton. He owns internet superstardom like a 17-year-old hardbody would, playing childish and immature in the most serious of scenarios. Clayton’s coy, enchanting smile alone sets the screen ablaze, as he has too much fun playing someone else’s fantasy. The way he pumps and gyrates on camera while looking directly into the lens oozes charisma, both through physical attraction and hypnotizing pleasure. Yet, he’s just a kid – and that comes out tenfold when he shows no knowledge of contracts, or sets to destroy Stephen’s entire career for his own personal gain. We get the super-stud “twink” star, but also the homesick son who just wants his mother’s hugs to make it all go away (mama Janette played by Alicia Silverstone).
Christian Slater, James Franco and Keegan Allen play the film’s warring porn-site factions, one quiet and subdued, the others living out a lifestyle of Hugh Heffner proportions. Slater’s Stephen sinks his claws into young boys with promises of genre infamy, which – in fairness – he typically delivers. Of course, he’s only filling a void left by his own desire to be wanted.
Franco and Allen are the more flamboyant, showy lovers. Allen’s Harlow is ex-Navy, and Franco’s Joe plays his jealous pimp/lover – a combination that leads to uncertainty and unrest. The two sides appear to be polar opposites, but all battle an identity crisis hurdling down a one-way track. Everyone wants what they can’t have, a golden child touted as the solution to all their problems.
I really can’t stress enough how entertaining the Viper Boyz are. You’ve got Franco – while playing catcher – screaming “GIVE ME THAT DICK” in the most un-ironic of ways. Then there’s Allen, curling dumbbells and letting dudes jerk-it to his recollection of shaking sexual imprisonment. These are the guys who make pornos named “The Fast And The Curious,” then high-five afterwards because they can’t fathom such genius.
Both actors commit to being in a powder-keg relationship, made better by European banana hammocks and a falseness that can’t hide how in over their heads these Boyz really are. They can’t even order sushi without sounding like goons, which plays into the wild crime they’re about to commit. No matter how unbelievable the scenario becomes, the Viper Boyz make ANYTHING possible.
Kelly’s biggest accomplishment is shining a blacklight on the seedy, admittedly seductive underworld of pornography. Monetary take-homes reflect numbers some can only dream of, much like the Viper Boyz’s lifestyle. There’s a fairness in depicting those who accept a life of on-camera sensuality, but also a viciousness once tensions mount upon Sean’s legal dilemma. Secrets are juxtaposed against immortal praise, where decisions only get more insane based on gritty starting points. Emotions from jealousy to desperation boil over in bloody, unhinged fashion, motivated by ill intentions and closeted helplessness. Everything is what it seems, except we notice it well before any characters – a strange advantage that benefits Kelly’s atmosphere.
True stories sometimes lack enthusiasm and investment, but King Cobra is a sweaty exception. From scene one, we’re drawn into this world of eroticism, lies and maximum exposure, suspicious of intent from the first shaky-cam audition. We meet the fresh-meat heartthrob, a barricaded King and two wannabe Boyz, so artfully poised for disaster that you can’t help but salivate. Who needs original ideas when reality is messed up enough for a story like this, moneyshot and all? King Cobra has the intensity, excitement and poison every thriller needs, and wild, engaging performances to boot. Don’t be shy.
King Cobra is an erotic thriller with a vicious bite, carried by performances that have no resemblance of porno-quality cheapness.