Editor’s Note: King Cobra is currently playing in limited theatrical release.
King Cobra, based on the 2007 murder of pornographer Bryan Kocis, means to be a darkly comic take on goofy criminals, and the culture clash between the sex industry and Middle America. Instead, it’s a flat, linear rehashing of a complicated and occasionally ludicrous situation, the kind of true crime that by all rights should be tailor-made for the screen, but here becomes just a made-for-TV movie with a hard R rating.
Many years ago, if you had asked me if jokes about bad porn dialogue would ever get old, I would have said, “Oh, hell no.” I was wrong. We as a culture have spoofed enough bad porno; there is no need to spoof more.
Stephen (Christian Slater, playing an analogue of the real-life Kocis), owner of Cobra Video, brings the young Sean Lockhart (Garrett Clayton) to his home studio in San Diego, dubs him Brent Corrigan, and makes a mint showing the barely legal star in a series of solo and group sex adventures. He also makes a reluctant Sean his boyfriend, without realizing that the teen had used a fake ID and is only 17. Sean uses this fact as leverage when he wants Stephen to pay him a larger share of the profits… and kindly get out of his bedroom, as well.
Negotiations sour, as expected, and Stephen finds himself without his main moneymaker, while Sean, now of age, finds himself unable to get work with other porn studios unless he can use the nom de porn Brent Corrigan, and Stephen has made sure that he can’t. Enter a low-budget porn company known as Viper Boyz, run by Joe (James Franco) and with his boyfriend Harlow (Keegan Allen) as the sole talent. Joe, volatile and desperate, is dead set on hiring Sean to co-star with Harlow in a series of porn flicks. He’s sure the combination will make everyone involved rich, and he’s also sure he can force Stephen to allow the use of the famous Brent Corrigan name on the Viper Boyz project. When Stephen refuses — not just refuses, but shrugs Joe off as a complete nobody — behind-the-scenes drama turns to front page tragedy.
The performances in King Cobra are the movie’s strong point, with Keegan Allen putting in a turn as one of the most sympathetic and unique bimbos to ever hit the big screen.
It’s somewhat noble, if perhaps a bit misguided, that the film refuses to engage in much by way of sexy times on screen. It’s a saucy film and there are sex scenes, certainly, but those hoping to catch a glimpse of hot porn action will be sorely disappointed. The relationships are dysfunctional rather than sexy, which is to be expected, and the porn scenes are equally dysfunctional, though in a different, allegedly humorous way. Many years ago, if you had asked me if jokes about bad porn dialogue would ever get old, I would have said, “Oh, hell no.” I was wrong. We as a culture have spoofed enough bad porno; there is no need to spoof more.
And just like a bad porno, King Cobra just can’t get itself going. Any time it threatens to start really digging into the lives of its characters, the film pulls away to focus on the other set of characters. Back and forth it goes, afraid of commitment, and under the sad delusion that a plot that refuses to share information with the audience is as enticing as a complicated story that likes to play coy.
The performances in King Cobra are the movie’s strong point, with Allen putting in a turn as one of the most sympathetic and unique bimbos to ever hit the big screen. Franco and Slater are also solid, and Molly Ringwald and Alicia Silverstone appear in two tiny roles that you wish were much larger. The film is mostly faithful to the truth, both in fact and in spirit, but the truth isn’t always inherently interesting simply because it’s the truth; that’s something porn studios understand, even if King Cobra never quite gets it.
Despite fine performances and a subject that seems ready-made for dark comedy, King Cobra never manages to engage with its characters, resulting in a flat and lifeless film.