After Spring Break’s instantly classic chant of “Look at all my shiiiit”, it seems James Franco is cruising for another catchphrase in King Cobra. While pumping iron in this gay-porn-gets-nasty true story, Franco repeatedly warns his pimped-out partner Harlow, “No Little Bitches”.
It's an apt motto for this sleazy tale of control-freak porn producers, and the murder that results when contracts are broken and jealousies rage. Sean is a pretty boy picked up by Cobra Video’s entrepreneurial Stephen (Christian Slater) and contracted to make gay porn under the stage name Brent Corrigan. Brent’s popularity quickly goes through the roof, but Stephen continues exploiting his young star despite his own inappropriate lust and affection for his hottest young property. When unhinged producer Joe (James Franco) from rival porn outfit the Viper Boys attempts to get his best boy Harlow together with Brent in a video, Stephen is not so keen to let his most profitable asset go.
There's plenty of time to explore the relationships of these pairs of men before a murder goes and spoils the gay porn party. Taking place in wealthy middle class neighbourhoods, the calm, wholesome exteriors hide the debauchery, exploitation and power struggles inside. The dynamics shift, particularly between the more interesting couple of Stephen and Brent. But it's difficult to have much sympathy with either, and even less so with the damaged and unhinged partnership of Joe and Harlow. For what it’s worth, Franco gives his all, whether in raunchy sex scenes or flipping out over his jealousy of Harlow. But both of these roles are underwritten and could have done with a little less flesh on show, and a little more fleshing out in the script.
But it's Christian Slater who gives great sleaze and emerges as the most interesting character; his older man is a complicated combination of victim and predator and purveyor of the male-on-male gaze. Even though King Cobra has its funny moments, it dips its toe into some interesting issues, most notably in a brief discussion of the generation gap between gay men. And while it's great to see icons Molly Ringwald and Alicia Silverstone given roles, this is a movie about the dudes and both actresses are given awfully little to do.
Until it smacks up against the dead end of its murder plot, King Cobra is riotous fun. Director Justin Kelly relishes the sleazy world these characters inhabit with an early montage set to the Scissor Sister’s Filthy/Gorgeous being a cheeky, raunchy highpoint.
However, King Cobra isn’t all fun and filth, but it could certainly be accused of promoting some pretty negative stereotypes. While it’s occasionally amusing to see just how dumb, damaged and self-obsessed these characters are (see the ‘no little bitches’ scene), a more progressive story featuring gay characters would be welcome from Justin Kelly and James Franco next.
KING COBRA / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: JUSTIN KELLY / STARRING: JAMES FRANCO, CHRISTIAN SLATER, GARRETT CLAYTON, KEEGAN ALLEN, ALICIA SILVERSTONE, MOLLY RINGWALD / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10