King Cobra | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

King Cobra

The movie can’t decide whether to be a true-crime shlocker, a campy riff or a serious film

Justin Kelly’s docudramedy King Cobra has been ripped from the headlines — albeit some yellowing ones from 2007 — and offers quite the buffet of titillating subjects: gay porn, underage porn actors, assorted sex workers, money, betrayal, murder and arson. Plus, it all happened in cozy small-town America, a.k.a. Luzerne County, in northeast Pennsylvania.

Sean Paul Lockhart (Garrett Clayton) leaves his California home and heads east to move in with Stephen (Christian Slater), who runs a gay-porn operation known as Cobra Films out of his home. Stephen casts, directs and shoots the films, which are available online for a price. Sean takes the nom de porn Brent Corrigan, and his boyish good looks and enthusiasm quickly make him a star.

Meanwhile, a pair of male escorts — Joe (James Franco) and Harlow (Keegan Allen) — are noting the success of online porn and ramping up their own production company. The relationship to the Cobra storyline is not immediately clear, but there are scenes of sunbathing, foot-licking and a troubled co-dependent relationship to process.

Kelly’s film has the lightly plotted slack and low production values of a porno, and I’m not sure whether that’s an intentional meta comment. Similarly, King Cobra can’t decide whether it wants to be a true-crime shlocker, a campy riff or a serious film. Franco appears to be slumming for his own amusement, but Slater is reaching for the quiet pathos of Stephen’s closeted life as an exploitive albeit lonely pornographer. Consider it a heartland Boogie Nights wannabe. 

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