Sunday, October 23, 2016

King Cobra (2016)

Film: King Cobra (2016)
Stars: Garrett Clayton, Christian Slater, James Franco, Keegan Allen
Director: Justin Kelly
Oscar History: Sure...a film about the world of gay porn is going to get an Oscar nomination.  Right.
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

When you think of a film about pornography, and it's not a situation where you're waiting for something to buffer, you think of Boogie Nights.  Paul Thomas Anderson really launched his impressive career as a filmmaker with this magnum opus, an epic film about pornography in the 1970's.  So good is Boogie Nights (and it really is sensational, even upon revisit), that it's kind of hard to compare it to pretty much any other film about the industry.  You're either succeeding in its shadow or miserably failing in comparison.  So when I heard King Cobra would be turned into a movie, I was kind of staggered as to what it might mean-would it be able to be much more than a "gay Boogie Nights" or would it, like so many James Franco projects lately, simply be another well-meaning misfire?

(Spoilers Ahead) The film is the rare biopic that I approve of, actually, so I want to get that out of the way.  I'm usually incredibly against biopics, but as this is a subject that's not particularly well-known (it's worth noting that they didn't even stick to all of the same names as real-life figures), and it's willing to make most of its real-life subjects look less than flattering, I give it a pass on that front.  The film follows Sean, who uses the stage name Brent Corrigan (Clayton) as he becomes a gay porn sensation through producer Stephen (Slater).  Meanwhile, we see a concurrent story of Joe (Franco) and Harlow (Allen), a pimp and escort who are trying to make it in gay porn, but aren't able to break in and are running low on money.

The actual story appears to be as sensationalistic as it was onscreen, with Sean actually being underaged in several of his videos, as well as how Sean inadvertently led to Harlow and Joe killing the man who discovered him in a violent murder/arson.  The film, weirdly, though, doesn't really know how to handle this much plot-the editing and direction from Justin Kelly is weirdly underwhelming on this front.  Take, for example, the scene where Sean is wearing a wire to try and exonerate himself and implicate Harlow and Joe late in the film-it should be a thriller, but we barely even know that he's wearing a wire through much of the scene.  The film pulls away and makes most scenes anticlimactic, never really knowing what the focus of the film is.  Is it on the seedy underbelly of a multi-billion dollar sin industry, or is it on an eventual murder, or is it a coming-of-age story for Sean?

This lack of direction is a big problem in the film, and kind of shuts down something that has some defiantly good parts, particularly Christian Slater as a lascivious man, still sexually-obsessed with the gay porn actors he discovers.  Slater is by far the best part of the movie.  You'd think it would be a copy of Burt Reynolds in Boogie Nights, but Slater, who is desperately lonely and still grappling with his sexuality, takes the aging porn producer role into a different direction.  The film is never judgmental about his character (or about homosexuality or sex in general, save for one pair of scenes with Molly Ringwald/Alicia Silverstone, which was a nice change of pace), but it isn't shy about showing his intentions, and in particular his obsession with Sean.  The rest of the acting is just okay-Franco has played this role before, and with more aplomb, in Spring Breakers, and Garrett Clayton proves why you should always hire good actors to play bad actors, because Clayton coasts too much when Sean is off-screen, and plays him too vacuously for the ending to pay off.

The film is, particularly for a picture about gay sex, oddly prudish about nudity.  It's hard to imagine this film ending up in many theaters and is mostly going to be delivered to audiences On Demand, so I'm kind of stunned, for example, that there is not a penis on display in the entire film, and the camerawork that they have to achieve to ensure you never see one borders on the idiotic.  Additionally, I felt the ending was completely unearned (Sean didn't grow in this movie, at least not onscreen, and so the ending felt ridiculously cheesy) and both an homage to Boogie Nights, and yet one where you need context to get it.  In Boogie Nights we spend most of the time hearing about Dirk Diggler's famously large penis and never seeing it until the last scene; in King Cobra we see clearly Brent Corrigan's famously firm posterior, except that we haven't heard about Brent's bum for most of the picture like we did Dirk (this is just famous in real life, not as highlighted in the movie), so it doesn't have the same "mic drop" effect it should.  Corrigan did, in fact, end up becoming a wildly-successful adult film star and had a modicum of success as a producer and actor in more mainstream films, but there's no indication of that in the movie and Corrigan isn't famous enough for the director to assume the audience knows the ending to that story.  It's a really odd ending, is what I'm trying to get at-an almost complete fail.

All-in-all, this film is better than it should be (it's very watchable, thanks almost exclusively to Slater knocking it out of the park), but it's still a pale imitation of films that went before it.  If you're interested in something that isn't your normal movie experience (or the world of gay porn), you should see it, but I'm not promising much.

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