TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STAR
Main Cast: Garret Clayton, Christian Slater
Director: Justin Kelly
I have a few weeks of downtime before I need to go into rehearsal for my exciting new televised live musical for the holiday season. I am certain West Side Christmas Story is going to join the select club of films that get placed in the Blu-Ray player every year as families all over America draw their loved ones close and gather around the electronic fire of their television set. Mary Gee and Kim Dee, my beloved seamstresses are working on a stunning outfit in holiday green sequins covered with mistletoe appliques. It has a tight bodice, tres décolleté and a four-foot kick train and will be absolutely perfect for my big second act number, I Feel Pretty Santa, that I sing in the bedecked aisles of Higbee’s department store while waiting for Chino to finish asking Santa for a Red Ryder BB gun with which to shoot Tony.
In the meantime, with all the disaster in the world, I feel like it’s my duty as a living legend to use some of my talents to bring hope and light into darkened corners. As my character, Maria, from West Side Christmas Story, has a Puerto Rican background, I’ve decided to put on a benefit concert for Puerto Rican relief from the recent hurricane. I’m sure there are some enchanting island melodies I can sing, and I’m sure there must be a native dance or two that I can turn into some amazing tap steps. I’ve booked the Hollywood Bowl for later in the month for maximum exposure. Of course, I’ll need some special guests to help carry the load. I’m having Madame Rose, my publicist, reach out to Lin-Manuel Miranda as he apparently has connections there and his career could use the boost of being associated with my stellar reputation.
As my mind is full of plans regarding the uses of celebrity, I decided to repair to the home theater and find a film which might explore the making of a star. I couldn’t find my copy of A Star Is Born and have always found both the original with Janet Gaynor and the remake with Barbra Streisand to have nothing on my fabulous life so I ended up settling for a little independent film from last year entitled King Cobra. A cautionary tale of star making, seduction, sin, and stabbings.
King Cobra takes place in the demimonde world of gay pornography and is the (mostly) true story of young Sean Lockhart (Garret Clayton) who becomes a sensation as a teenager through the Svengaliesque ministrations of Stephen (Christian Slater), an older man who makes his living by filming young men in flagrante delicto and selling the films on the internet. Sean, who comes from the working poor and has no discernible skills, is seduced by the easy money and expensive gifts and Stephen, like Pygmalion, falls for his creation whom he has named Brent Corrigan. However, as Brent’s fame grows, Sean soon starts to realize that only a small amount of the money he generates for Stephen’s Cobra studio is making its way to him. In parallel to this story, we meet a couple of hustlers, Joe (James Franco) and Harlow (Keegan Allen), who are nowhere near as successful at the porn game and are in financial difficulties. They decide that what they need is the talents of Brent Corrigan on their website. There’s just one little snag, Stephen has trademarked the name and no one else, including Sean can use it. Joe and Harlow decide that the way out of this dilemma is through murder.
While the broad outlines of King Cobra follow a real criminal case that took place in Pennsylvania a dozen years ago, and most of the characters are real people using their real names, the filmmakers have decided to reset the story in Southern California. This was likely done for budgetary reasons but moving the story from an area of the country not know for the seamier side of life to porn central does it a disservice. Stephen, the pornographer, is based on Brian Kocis of Cobra Studio. Why his real name was not used is likely due to legal permissions from his family and estate. Sean Lockhart aka Brent Corrigan, who was a key witness in the murder trial, remains in the pornography industry.
I rather liked the film. It’s well-crafted and writer/director Justin Kelly has obviously done his research and has great sympathy for all the characters caught up in the melodrama. There are also hints of archetypes and hubris reminiscent of classical tragedy but the story never goes very far down those roads. It also has an interesting cast with a number of 80s/90s icons playing the older generation. Besides Slater, who gives his best performance in years, Alicia Silverstone turns up as Sean’s mother and Molly Ringwald as Stephen’s sister. This gives an added layer of having the audience reflect upon the way that film in general relies on youth and beauty and wondering what happens when looks fade and age and time catch up with us. Fortunately, due to my exquisite skin care regimen with the finest Lesterene beauty products, I look somewhat younger than my eternal 39 years of age.
There are weaknesses of course. Like any mainstream film set in the sex industry, King Cobra plays coy with the nudity and sex. We see most of the leads’ bare bottoms but other flesh and most of the sex acts remain just out of frame. However, we see enough to leave little to the imagination and this is one to keep away from the kids unless you want to do some serious explaining. The film is also a bit flat in terms of cinematography and editing, having a bit of the feel of an ABC TV movie of the week. The script would also work a bit better if it delved a bit more into the psychological motivations of the characters. We don’t really learn too much about why young Sean stays with this career or what he might be getting from the exploitation. The supporting characters don’t get enough screen time to do more than sketch in with broad character strokes.
I can’t really recommend searching King Cobra out unless you have an interest in the subject matter, either from the true crime or the gay porn perspective. If either of these appeal to you, you won’t think that you’ve wasted your time and you will get to enjoy a rather nuanced performance from Christian Slater as the tortured (and torturing) Stephen. In a more complex movie, we would be given more time to explore who he is and why he does what he does and how his choices lead to his downfall but this one tends to stick to more facile tropes.
Expensive watch. Pool boy plot device. Repossessed sports car. Primitive web commerce. Gratuitous nosy neighbor. Pedophilia allegations. Fake IDs. Sushi dinner.