Magazine article Screen International

'King Cobra': Tribeca Review

Magazine article Screen International

'King Cobra': Tribeca Review

Article excerpt

Dir/sc: Justin Kelly. US, 2016. 92 mins.

Justin Kelly's King Cobra bears the distinction of being the first optimistic black comedy set in the world of gay porn production that's also extremely classy. Currently screening in the Tribeca festival's Midnight section, it's a movie of such wit and daring that it could transcend its LGBT appeal to become a crossover hit, though it's unlikely to accrue the box office of Boogie Nights (1998), Paul Thomas Anderson's celebrated evocation of late-1970s straight porn filmmaking.

Despite the softening of cultural attitudes towards porn as a result of its increased consumption via the internet, its creators are still regarded as deviants by moral guardians and their broad constituency. Since King Cobra builds to a murder motivated by greed, Kelly scarcely whitewashes the gay porn industry's murky vibe, but he also refuses to pass judgment on its practitioners' lust, even when their objects of desire are actors who are barely legal.

Kelly deftly accords the milieu a normalizing jauntiness through Tim Kvasnosky's effervescent electronic score and hilariously banal small talk about clothes and food; a mainstream sheen that counters the visual seediness of such Silicone Valley biopics as Rated X (2000) and Wonderland (2003); and the casting of four erstwhile Young Hollywood stars. Standouts as introverted and extroverted gay "daddy" figures respectively, Christian Slater and James Franco - the latter a producer of the project and a driving force behind it - are gamely joined by Alicia Silverstone and Molly Ringwald. Each actress plays a naïve woman blindsided by the realization that she has a close relative working in porn.

This quartet provides excellent support for flamboyant turns as preening gay starlets by lead actor Garrett Clayton and fellow TV tween heartthrob (and acclaimed photographer) Keegan Allen.

King Cobra is Kelly's follow-up to his auspicious debut I Am Michael, which stars Franco as a gay activist who renounces his homosexuality for religious reasons and explores the pressures gay men face in maintaining their identities. Those in the new film have no such worries. Inspired by a 2015 true crime exposé written by Andrew E. Stoner and Peter A. Conway, it follows the wayward progress of Sean Paul Lockhart (Clayton), a Justin Bieber lookalike from San Diego, who is first seen narcissistically auditioning on a couch at the laughably suburban Pennsylvanian home of gay porn entrepreneur Stephen (Slater). …

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