The Porn Ultimatum – Reviewing KING COBRA

In a time when LGBT cinema is evolving and now blurring the lines between indie filmmaking and adult cinema to intelligent effect (I Want Your Love, Stranger By The Lake, Int : Leather Bar, Looking), King Cobra misses a chance to really be the queer Boogie Nights.

In telling the nearly known story of queer adult cinema’s millennial golden boy Brent Corrigan (Garrett Clayton) and the rise, fall and thirtysomething obscurity of his career, King Cobra has the intentions to go all the way but slightly pulls out at the last moment from being a great movie. Despite a cracking Eighties synth score (one can forgive that being out of historical context), nifty pacing, branding (it is very aware of Looking), producer James Franco’s ongoing gay movie project and a very queer lens it also has none of the character scope, intent, sense of time, sense of sexuality and that vital sense of Californian location that marked out Boogie Nights as a modern classic of American cinema.

Despite James Franco on solid, weight pumping form and a great throwback cast including Christian Slater (oh how the twink tables have turned since he was the young newbie in In The Name of The Rose), Alicia Silverstone (on really good form as Corrigan’s perfectly pitched young California mum) and Molly Ringwald (rocking some marvellous Republican hair), this film needed more meat on its various bones and a greater sense of its industry’s politics and its place in that world. There is no sense or comment of the wider gay movie industry other than the basement studios of labels Cobra and Viper. In an era where the lucrative adult DVD world gradually became an online world and hence everybody’s market, King Cobra seems to curiously operate in an analogue world. It is often too tied up with the ludicrous, but admittedly true beats of the story that – although it comes with great queer movie making credentials in director Justin Kelly (I Am Michael) – the film ultimately emerges as a very straight, very safe film about gay adult cinema making all those straight judgments about predatory homosexual men, nubile young innocents, drugs, vanity and hedonistic mood lighting. King Cobra pins itself to the real life OMG moments, yet without the necessary judgment, opinion and flair to make this story stand out as a money shot of contemporary queer cinema beyond its last act tragedy and legal-baiting ages of consent. Issues of ageing in that industry, HIV/AIDS, queer rights, the Republican era it all happened in and the slight legitimisation of the gay porn industry in the wider gay media are all side-lined. The real life and particularly brutal tragedy of one participant’s murder should not just form some neat climax, but the starting point of a deeper, more penetrative look at sexuality via the camera, internet and youth. Like its real life gay porn influences it does however contain a humour, hot flesh, those terrible gay porn scripted overtures into the action and maybe needs to be two inches – sorry – twenty minutes longer. Less of a king, more of a princess.