I guess lurid tabloid-fodder stories will always have a certain appeal, but it’s almost worse when a filmmaker tries to pretend that it’s really about something more. Writer/director Justin Kelly explores the real-life story of San Diego teenager Sean Lockhart (Garrett Clayton), who becomes a gay porn star using the stage name Brent Corrigan under the tutelage of producer Stephen (Christian Slater), only to get caught up in the darker side of the industry. That darker side also includes rival producer Joe (James Franco, James Franco-ing as only James Franco can) and Joe’s younger lover/protégé Harlow (Keegan Allen), and the movie uses these parallel stories as a way to tease some subtext involving generational differences in gay men coming out in different eras. But King Cobra ultimately feels much more tied into the lurid moments—fetish escort dates, bursts of violence—than with anything more complicated. Even the casting of former youth stars (Slater, Molly Ringwald, Alicia Silverstone) feels like a calculated attempt to play with naughtiness. If there’s anything more complex here than “Scandal in gay porn!”, it’s awfully difficult to spot it amidst all the scandalous gay porn.
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