“Homosexuals have their own way of dealing with the law of inevitable ageing,” Guy Hocquenghem writes in the foundational queer theory text, Homosexual Desire. “Homosexual desire is unaware of the passing of the seven ages of man, and homosexuals therefore experience all the more intensely, and in a greater concentration of images than anyone else, the Oedipal trap of an evolution from infancy to old age.” Translation: I get older, they stay the same age.
Well, almost. In a gay-specific context, like the one Hocquenhem describes, the beholding “I” and the beholden “they” are one, separated by a matter of years. The teenage object of an octogenarian’s affections will one day become the octogenarian himself, lusting after that which he will never be again. This loss of power through sexual desirability can understandably take a toll on a person’s psyche, especially if his now foregone youthful beauty was the only source from which he drew that power in the first place. It’s a race against the clock, one that’s often without a winner, but that doesn’t stop the characters who populate King Cobra from searching for a route to the finish line at any cost.
King Cobra, released last Friday, is a true-crime comedy-thriller from director and screenwriter Justin Kelly (I Am Michael). It presents a sensationalized take on the Brent Corrigan origin story, charting the eventual gay porn titan’s rise from secretly underage solo masturbation videos for Cobra Video to his exoneration in the 2007 murder of Cobra studio head Bryan Kocis, renamed Stephen in the film.
Although Corrigan sanctioned the use of his name and life story, he has gone on record as being against King Cobra and its “insensitive” director, telling Str8UpGayPorn: “It was clear to me that they were not trying to make a movie that would serve gay men, the gay adult industry, or any justice with what happened to Bryan, or what I lived through with Grant [Roy, his boyfriend at the time].” (Brent Corrigan did not respond to a request for further comment now that King Cobra has been released.) Joseph Kerekes, one of two men convicted of murdering Kocis in order to free Corrigan from his Cobra Video contract, has called Kelly’s depiction of events “very lifelike and very true.” Harlow Cuadra, the other man convicted in Kocis’ murder, has not publicly commented on the film.
Director Justin Kelly streamlines his fictionalized retelling of these gruesome, real-life events into a darkly humorous battle for Brent Corrigan: a game of thrones that pits porn producer against porn producer, swapping Westeros for the suburbs of Scranton and the Iron Throne for the highest-earning twink in the industry. Stephen (Christian Slater) is eager to keep his lucrative Cobra Video signee all to himself. Brent (Garrett Clayton) is desperate to leave his contract with Stephen, who groomed Brent into a sexually and financially exploitative relationship, and take control of his own career. The deeply indebted Joe (James Franco) and Harlow (Keegan Allen) are hell-bent on luring Corrigan into their own gay porn stable, Viper Boyz. At a time of homogeneously all-white Abercrombie catalogs and Jergens Natural Glow-soaked, tousle-haired XY coverboys, the mid- to late aughts find Brent at his peak profitability. All four men are dead-set on reaping those profits before it’s too late, for when it comes to twinks, according to Franco’s character: “You blink, and they’re a fucking twunk.”
Considering how Brent’s limited shelf life as an object of desire is what drives the briskly paced film through its trim 90-minute runtime, Heidi K. Eklund’s casting for King Cobra is particularly inspired. The picture pairs PG-rated teen TV stars (Keegan Allen hails from Pretty Little Liars, Garrett Clayton from Disney Channel) with pouty-lipped heartthrobs from decades past who have long since outgrown their cute phase (Christian Slater and James Franco, who gets the chance to be extremely “gay in my art” with this project). Casting John Hughes muse Molly Ringwald and Clueless star Alicia Silverstone as Stephen’s normie sister and Brent’s mother, respectively, is similarly clever.
All six actors turn out strong performances in what could have otherwise been a series of one-dimensional, meta-commentary stunt castings. That’s not to say that the stunt of these actors’ castings goes unappreciated. Much like watching Winona Ryder confront spiritual successor Natalie Portman in Black Swan, it’s fascinating to wade through the layers of seeing salt-and-pepper haired Heathers heartthrob Christian Slater exact an industry-supported projected vengeance by proxy on Zac Efron 2.0 Garrett Clayton, or to vicariously cower with the alternately hilarious and heartbreaking Keegan Allen as an increasingly crow’s-footed James Franco flies off the handle at him over his youth and desirability.
Watching King Cobra, I couldn’t help but wonder whether it would prove a turning point in Clayton and Allen’s careers, marking one or both of their successful transitions into serious adult roles. Will they manage to cross the finish line that so many Devons Sawa and Joshuas Jackson fail to reach? Will it matter if they don’t? They’ll keep getting older, but there will always be another crop of Disney kids to harvest.