Despite some recognizable names in the credits, King Cobra, based on a real-life murder case in the underworld of gay porn, has very little to distinguish it from low-level, softcore efforts usually cranked out with casts of unknowns.
James Franco, in the full-out gonzo mode that’s become his shtick (think Spring Breakers but even more so), stars as a flashy, leather-clad pornographer who hopes to employ a rising star who uses the performing name of Brent Corrigan (Garrett Clayton, a onetime Disney Channel star).
Here’s the short version: The Franco character needs to use the Corrigan name, which has a built-in following, but the monicker contractually belongs to Corrigan’s earlier producer, Stephen (played by Christian Slater, whose work is probably the movie’s single intriguing element). Added wrinkle: Corrigan was underage when he worked for Stephen.
The upshot is bloody murder, graphically depicted. (There’s been some loose talk that King Cobra is a gay Boogie Nights, which is nothing but a slur on that fine Paul Thomas Anderson movie.)
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There are copious sex scenes (intense, but they don’t cross the porno line), a touch of campy melodrama and even a few semifunny jokes. Molly Ringwald and Alicia Silverstone have smallish roles, but seem to be included mainly for whatever residual marquee value they still possess.
The movie winks at the audience about the low-grade sleaze that the on-screen producers are hawking, but by the end of King Cobra, you’ll wonder why the filmmakers feel so superior.
For the record, the movie was written and directed by Justin Kelly, who worked with Franco in 2015’s I Am Michael, another exercise in playing footsie with the transgressive line. Sorry, guys, back to the drawing board.
Exclusive: Alamo Drafthouse Cedars, Dallas; on-demand
☆ (out of five)
Director: Justin Kelly
Cast: James Franco, Christian Slater, Garrett Clayton
Rated: Unrated (sex, strong language, violence, adult themes)
Running time: 91 min.