October 20, 2016 at 10:00 am EST | by Brian T. Carney
‘Cobra’ shows underbelly of gay porn world
King Cobra, gay news, Washington Blade

Garett Clayton as Sean (aka Brent Corrigan) in ‘King Cobra,’ an entertaining yet muddled film about the gay porn industry. (Photo courtesy IFC Films)

There’s a moment toward the end of “King Cobra” (available on demand on Oct. 21), the sophomore feature film by writer/director Justin Kelly (“I Am Michael”), when the movie finally clicks.

Police lights slice through the dark suburban night. Two frantic young men are being escorted to separate police cars. Through tears, they shout out fervent declarations of eternal love and pained expressions of regret.

Then their words are cut off by liquid piano notes that hang in the air. It’s the glorious opening notes of Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” Then there are words. Wily composer Tim Kvasnosky has added lyrics, a lovely pop ballad called “Love Is Forever,” to Schubert’s melody.

It’s a delicious, multi-layered, thought-provoking moment. It’s witty, moving, visual and insightful. It reaches a level of cinematic finesse that is sadly not seen elsewhere in the movie. “King Cobra” is not a bad movie. It’s just rather pedestrian, which is a shame given the great material and this terrific sequence. It had its D.C. premiere at Reel Affirmations this month and a theatrical release is expected here soon.

The movie is based on the sensational 2007 real-life murder of gay porn producer Bryan Kocis, who founded Cobra Video and launched the career of Brent Corrigan, porn star-turned actor, director and porn producer. The film opens when King Cobra (called “Stephen” in the movie and played by Christian Slater) picks up the ambitious Sean (Garrett Clayton).

Performing as Brent Corrigan, Sean quickly becomes a star in the gay porn world. He and Stephen have a volatile relationship, fueled by jealousy and fights over Sean’s share of the proceeds. Sean finally leaves Cobra Video, but Stephen reveals he owns the rights to the name Brent Corrigan, leaving the young actor stranded.

Meanwhile, handsome young Harlow (Keegan Allen), a former military man, is turning tricks so that he and Joe (James Franco), a former youth pastor, can launch their own porn company Viper Boyz and earn enough money to buy Harlow his own Viper roadster. Their relationship is equally volatile, fueled by desperate levels of debt and the psychotic tendencies of both men.

The two stories finally intersect when Sean meets Joe and Harlow at a fancy sushi restaurant, where Joe insists on ordering their most expensive bottle of sake. Sean reveals that Stephen still owns his stage name. Joe and Harlow say they can take care of that little problem.

Unfortunately, they cannot take care of the movie’s central problems — leaden pacing and uncertain tone. The script jumps predictably back and forth between the two couples in short scenes separated by blackouts. Since King Cobra never meets the Viper Boyz (he’s never even heard of them), there’s no real rivalry between the two studios and there’s no sense of inevitably leading up to Stephen’s murder. While there are some excellent scenes, the movie never builds any momentum.

More importantly, the film lacks a consistent tone. It’s not clear if this is comedy or drama or something in between. Director of photography Benjamin Loeb seems to be stuck in a film noir; the murky cinematography often masks the actor’s faces. The quirky music by composer Tim Kvasnosky often lends a satiric edge to the material, an approach that seems to work quite well.

All the performances are solid. Former Disney kid Clayton hits all of the requisite young twink notes. Slater has fun with the mild-mannered closeted studio photographer who runs a gay male porn empire out of his basement. He switches from jealous producer to ruthless businessman with ease and is a very seductive cameraman.

Franco and Allen are less successful with their poorly written roles. Both characters are living on the edge, but there’s little sense of menace in their possessive passion for each other and in their supposedly obsessive desire for fame and fortune.

The cast is rounded out by Alicia Silverstone as Sean’s perky mother and Molly Ringwald as Stephen’s concerned sister. More screen time for both characters could have given some depth and variety to a rather shallow story that never mines its comic or dramatic potential.

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