Movie Review - King Cobra (2016)

In 2007, a man was murdered in his Pennsylvania home. While he sat on his couch, his throat was slit so deeply that he was nearly decapitated. He was subsequently stabbed in the chest more than twenty times. His body was burned as was his home partially. It was revealed that this man ran a website that sold gay porn videos. That website was called Cobra Video. Andrew E. Stoner and Peter A. Conway published a book called Cobra Killer, which detailed the people involved in this brutal event. Writer-director Justin Kelly adapted that book into this feature. While a good amount of time is dedicated to depicting the motives of the two men convicted of that 2007 murder, the bulk of the film focuses on the underage porn star tangentially-connected to the crime. Kelly's choice to do so makes sense, but it's perhaps not the best choice.

Garrett Clayton (The Fosters and Hairspray Live) stars as Sean Paul Lockhart, the real-life porn star who goes by the name Brent Corrigan. He lies about his age and says he's 18 when he's really 17. He becomes a star of Cobra Video but he soon realizes that he's being underpaid or the guy running Cobra Video is making way more money off him than he's paying. When Sean tries to leave and make videos at other websites, Cobra Video won't allow him to use the name Brent Corrigan.

Christian Slater (True Romance and Nymphomaniac) co-stars as Stephen, the fictionalized owner of Cobra Video. He's a photographer who does family portraits occasionally, or in a way to keep up appearances with his family or neighbors, but his preference is to bring young, white boys to his house to take pornographic pictures of them. He seemingly falls in love with Sean and gets Sean to sign a contract, which ties him down more than anything. He then secretly exploits Sean making hundreds of thousands off the Brent Corrigan videos. He also gets very controlling of Sean and jealous if Sean shows interest in other guys.

Even before Stephen becomes controlling and jealous, Sean turns cold to Stephen. They have sex but Sean just isn't into it. The rest of the movie is all about Sean breaking free and taking control of his name and running things or being the director. At one point, Sean turns the camera on Stephen and he's just as comfortable directing as he is performing.

The problem with Kelly's script is that it never makes the argument as to why the name Brent Corrigan is so important. Sean wants to do a porn video with Harlow Cuadra, played by Keegan Allen (Pretty Little Liars). Sean gets an email from Harlow's partner and producer, Joe Kerekes, played by James Franco who starred in Kelly's previous film and directorial debut I Am Michael. Joe runs a gay porn website called Viper Boyz. Joe thinks a sex video between Harlow and Sean would make a lot of money, but only if Sean uses the name Brent Corrigan. Yet, Cobra Video owns the name Brent Corrigan, so Sean can't use it with Harlow and Joe.

Unfortunately, the script never makes the argument why Joe can't just use Sean's real name or else another one. The musician Prince from 1993 to 2000 when he had issues with his record label, Warner Bros., decided to ditch his name for a symbol and the press referred to him as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince. It's never explained why Sean couldn't do that. Name recognition is important in Hollywood and apparently in the porn industry, but the life-and-death stakes never feel justified over just one name. Ultimately, it's not the name that's being sold, it's Sean's body, which he has no matter what you call him.

Kelly's depiction of the guys making the porn videos are done more for comedic effect than with any kind of seriousness. It's almost difficult to tell if Kelly is mocking these porn videos or if he's just doing dutiful re-creations. He simply might be commenting on the one-man operations that were both Cobra Video and Viper Boyz, which didn't have a lot of high production values. It's unfortunate that Kelly mostly montages past details about how porn is made and marketed. It could have stood as a modern update to Boogie Nights (1997), which was about the porn business pre-Internet.

For those who didn't hear about this story before this film, the truth about who was involved in the murder and how much they were involved could be somewhat of a thrilling surprise. The film does telegraph it pretty early, but Kelly doesn't really dig into it. His attempts to do so get treated in jarring ways, mainly in the performances.

Slater's performance is very solid. Clayton is given a lot of the spotlight in this narrative, but he's a bit of a cipher. He's not particularly memorable. Aside from his beauty, there's not much to endear him or make him engaging. One moment where Sean blackmails Stephen is interesting but the screenplay drops that aspect. Allen has a lot more complexity to his character and his performance, which makes Kelly's choice not to make Allen the protagonist ridiculous.

Meanwhile, Franco does too much scene-chewing. He's too over-the-top and I don't think he has chemistry with anyone. Franco has made a bit of news over the amount of gay roles he's done as a straight person. Some have assumed that he's actually gay in real-life. If someone thinks he's gay in real-life, then watch his performance here and any doubt he's straight will be removed because he's not convincing. He feels like a straight guy trying too hard.

Molly Ringwald and Alicia Silverstone have small roles that should have been expanded because both are good. Spencer Lofranco (At Middleton and Jamesy Boy) also has a small role. He's a young, handsome, very sexy and up-and-coming actor who continues to prove he's very talented and should be given more roles and more to do. I almost wish he had Clayton's role. Lofranco would have been more compelling to follow.

The real-life Sean Paul Lockhart was interviewed for a documentary about his work as a porn star. It's called I'm a Porn Star. It was directed by Charlie David. That has perhaps more insight than this and shows that the real Lockhart is more interesting than this fictional one. More insight into gay porn can be found in MTV's True Life series and an episode called "I'm a Gay for Pay Pornstar," as well as Here TV's Everything You Wanted to Know About Gay Porn Stars..."

Not Rated but contains nudity and graphic sexuality and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 32 mins.


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