"King Cobra" unzips a lurid package of betrayal, obsession and murder in the gay porn world that's just as eye-opening for its pockets of behavioral fascination as for its seedier elements. So why is writer/director Justin Kelly like a kid who loves the shiny wrapping more than what's inside?
The players in this true-crime story certainly make for an intriguing four-way of desire and ambition. While lonely gay suburbanite Stephen (Christian Slater) builds the online adult empire King Cobra on the sultry, cheekbone-rich appeal of teenager Sean (Garrett Clayton) who goes by the nom de porn "Brent Corrigan," unhinged hustler Joe (James Franco) turns an obsession with his own dim-bulb boyfriend Harlow (Keegan Allen) into the edgier, less-successful "Viper Boyz" website.
When these characters' fortunes change, though, their paths cross and a homicide is hatched. But what could have been the gay "Boogie Nights" opts instead for winking slickness and the exaggerated emptiness of every porn movie's "dramatic" scenes, as if Kelly were afraid to unearth real sensitivity and emotion from the tempestuous machinations of a sordid corner of showbiz.
Molly Ringwald and Alicia Silverstone are ill-used as the unsuspecting women in Stephen's and Sean's lives, Slater has some effective moments and Franco excels at a certain kind of scary/funny psycho, but it doesn't ultimately add up to much as either pulpy trash or exposé.
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Playing: Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood; also on VOD