Originally published on Flickering Myth on 06/10/16.
Boasting a very genuine dose of true crime grit and an extraordinarily hammy turn from Hollywood’s latest wacko James Franco, King Cobra has a lot going for it on paper. It’s just curious enough to be enticing and comes complete with a star-studded (if a little dusty) cast to boot too. There’s just not quite enough follow-through in its actual execution to really be memorable.
Director Justin Kelly has certainly cast the film well, and is largely very careful to work within the parameters of the real story; there’s not an awful lot of sensationalism to the events themselves, or if there is, it’s not entirely noticeable. It’s a narrative that feels just grounded enough to be believable, but sadly one that’s never particularly enticing.
The only remotely ‘thrilling’ aspects of King Cobra’s plotting don’t really find themselves in play until the very crux of the film, and beforehand all that’s really wheeled out is a much more monotonous strand of character back-and-forths. Garrett Clayton is a thoroughly likeable lead, and even Christian Slater’s ever-so-slightly unsettling producer has some intrigue to him, but balancing the large majority of the film on their relationship doesn’t pay off as well as Kelly seems to hope it will.
The precursing drama is simply a little too sanitised at times to fully fit in with the racier vibe that surrounds the film’s inner world. True, there’s some pretty liberal doses of sex here and there, but they seem to drift between being either outrageously over the top or ridiculously po-faced in their execution; there’s no clear, regular tone.
It’s clear that Kelly’s movie is certainly at it’s most comfortable when it’s embracing the more underground, pulpy side of its storytelling. Franco and on-screen partner Keegan Allen seem to understand this best, playing off each other’s inflated, smutty performances exceedingly well, it’s just that these significantly more entertaining turns don’t seem to quite match-up with what the rest of the film is trying to be.
Kelly can’t quite decide if King Cobra is a tense true crime drama with a made-for-TV vibe, or a much trashier celebration of the darkness of the porn industry. In pulling the film together, he’s far too heavy-handed with certain aspects, and the result is a finished product that’s much, much too uneven to be fully appreciated.
It’s worth seeing for Franco’s stand-out silliness, just don’t expect as much fun from the rest of the cast.
King Cobra was screened as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2016.