King Cobra
dir-scr Justin Kelly
prd James Franco, Vince Jolivette, Scott Levenson, Jordan Yale Levine, Shaun S Sanghani
with Garrett Clayton, Christian Slater, James Franco, Keegan Allen, Molly Ringwald, Alicia Silverstone, Spencer Lofranco, Robby Johnson, Sean Grandillo, Edward Crawford, Ron Simons, Keith Leonard
release US 21.Oct.16, UK Oct.16 lff
16/US 1h31
King Cobra
Video sensation: Clayton

slater franco ringwald
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
King Cobra Based on an outrageous true story, this film grips the audience with its colourful characters and unpredictable situations. But the script struggles to find a point of view, which means that it's not easy to identify with anyone on-screen, so there isn't an emotional core to what happens. A more focussed dramatic approach might have made a better film, but this is still a riveting story.

Adopting the name Brent Corrigan, Sean (Clayton) teams up with gay porn producer Stephen (Slater), who runs Cobra Video in his tidy suburban California home. And "Brent" becomes a sensation, while his mother (Silverstone) thinks he's a Hollywood studio intern. When Stephen neglects to share the wealth, Sean jumps ship. But Stephen owns the name Brent Corrigan, which means that Sean is unable to use it to further his career. Determined to make some money by casting Brent in their movie, rival porn producers Joe and Harlow (Franco and Allen) hatch a badly thought-through plan.

There are several seriously bonkers plot turns, as the film follows the savvy Sean, self-doubting Stephen and ridiculously dim Joe and Harlow. All are terrific characters, and the actors have a great time bringing them to life, diving into the intense interaction with gusto. Writer-director Kelly cleverly maintains realism without indulging in pornographic imagery, carefully cropping the scenes. This may slightly undercut the film's edginess, but it gives the actors freedom to add some unexpected energy.

The well-cast Clayton has a solid presence, but the riotous Franco and Allen steal the show, and the narrative really should have focussed on them. Slater brings surprising depth to his mild-mannered nice guy. When he's set up by Sean as a paedophile, the very public fallout is complex and very dark. And it's in the following scenes that Silverstone and Ringwald (as Stephen's sister) add a badly needed outside perspective, plus some punchy emotion.

But the perspective remains a problem. Kelly opens with Sean's story, then shifts to Stephen and takes a sideroad to Joe and Harlow. And while all of these people have important angles on the story, the film never quite gets beneath anyone's skin. The repercussions of these events are never very clear. And after the cheeky, suggestive wink of an epilog, the fact that someone was violently killed seems like an unpleasant plot point, only barely causing a ripple. In other words, this is a fascinating story, but the movie is rather cold.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality, violence 29.Sep.16

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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall