King Cobra is an uninspired addition to the canon of homosexual-killer films. In comparison with classics of the genre like Rope or The Talented Mr. Ripley, Justin Kelly’s second film just lacks panache. The rote cinematography looks like a cheaply made porno film, and the absence of a commanding visual imagination places the movie in the same X-rated world it’s attempting to document. Boogie Nights famously covered similar territory — the wicked ways of the porn industry — to infinitely more arresting effects. Christian Slater as Bryan Kocis, the doomed proprietor of Cobra Video, does some excellent work creating a plausible character from a turbulent mix of aggression and desperation. But each time his emotions begin to build up steam, the lighting or the staging flattens out the melodrama. Garrett Clayton as Brent Corrigan, his twink porn star protégé, also manages to deliver brainless self-absorption with conviction. Regrettably, the villain is played by the gay-for-pay actor James Franco. The script, already a sodden mess, disintegrates into mush each time his mouth opens to a snarl. Every line reading is obvious, forced, and unnatural. His effortless performance in Milk was unguarded; he was receptive to the camera’s gaze. Now, Franco stares down the lens like a hated enemy. Being looked at is exhausting his soul, and yet, it’s an addiction he cannot, or refuses to, quit.
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