It is supposedly a crime drama based on Andrew E. Stoner & Peter A. Conway’s nonfiction book Cobra Killer: Gay Porn, Murder, and the Manhunt to Bring the Killers to Justice, but it only takes the cops about thirty seconds to arrest the perps. Maybe the term “manhunt” is used euphemistically. Despite the intentionally lurid subject matter, you will be hard-pressed to find a duller, dingier, more vacuous film than Justin Kelly’s King Cobra (trailer here), which opens today in New York.
In the early 2000s, apparently anyone with a digital camera and a website could become a player in the gay porn industry. For Stephen, his nocturnal side light as producer-host “King Cobra” was the only relief from a life of quiet desperation. He was already moderately successful when he recruited seventeen-year-old Sean Paul Lockhart (mistakenly believing him to be eighteen), but the videos the performer shot under the name “Brent Corrigan” took his company to a whole new level. For a while, everyone enjoys their success, but when Lockhart decides to leave King Cobra, he discovers the spurned producer holds the trademark on the Brent Corrigan name.
Meanwhile, escorts and self-styled pornstars Harlow and Joe really want to work with Corrigan. Deep in debt, they are convinced a video co-starring Corrigan and Harlow will solve all their problems. Of course, it has to be Lockhart under the Corrigan name. He is willing, but King Cobra is not.
One of the many problems with King Cobra is the murder and the subsequent investigation are compressed into the final ten minutes. The overwhelming majority of the film is devoted to Lockhart’s hopes and dreams and angsts and insecurities of the killers. Frankly, this material couldn’t sustain a fifteen minute short. Clearly, Kelly hopes we will be distracted by the naughty business, but it quickly gets boring (particularly if it doesn’t float your boat to begin with).
How mind-blowing is it to see Alicia Silverstone playing Lockhart’s mom? Actually, she is not bad—maybe the best thing about Cobra. To be fair, Christian Slater is also very good playing the profoundly sad Stephen (the King), but the film’s general crumminess is in keeping with the recent underwhelming additions to his filmography, such as The Adderall Diaries (another utterly unwatchable James Franco joint), Stranded, and Playback. Franco probably considered Joe the Psycho to be another opportunity to display his gay-friendliness, but it is an awfully schticky, perilously clichéd character. At least we notice him, whereas neither Garrett Clayton nor Keegan Allen have any presence or depth as Lockhart/Corrigan or Harlow.
To reiterate, the real problem with the film is not the subject matter. It is just an unforgivable snore fest. Arguably, it takes unique talent to make pornography and murder boring as Hell, but somehow Kelly pulled it off. He even squanders 1980s icon Molly Ringwald in an entirely inconsequential role. Tedious yet still sleazy, King Cobra is not recommended for anyone when it opens today (10/21) in New York, at the IFC Center.