“Searching for a boy in high school is as useless as searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie.”
The first screening of Chicago International Film Festival’s Totally ’90s series is Clueless, a sort of link between ’80s classics like Valley Girl and Heathers and later films like Election, 10 Things I Hate About You, Mean Girls, and even Fox’s current television series Scream Queens. Adapted from Jane Austen’s Emma, which I haven’t read and probably never will, Clueless transmits the novel’s heroine across time and space from outside London in the early Nineteenth Century to Beverly Hills in the late Twentieth. It’s a cute idea that works—I didn’t know until this screening that the story is 200 years old. As if!
“Hymenally challenged” (i.e., virgin) 16 year old California girl Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) is vain, popular, and rich. Perhaps not surprisingly, she’s incredibly superficial, even if she means well. Her mother died in “a freak accident during a routine liposuction,” leaving her father, brass-balled Type A litigator Mel (Dan Hedaya), to raise her. When Cher gets a bad report card, she enlists her bestie Dionne (Stacey Dash), a hip black version of herself, to help fix up two nerdy tough-grading teachers, Mr. Hall (Wallace Shawn) and Miss Geist (Twink Caplan). Her plan is simple: she wants to get them laid so they’ll chill out and be receptive to negotiating her grades. Meanwhile, Cher adopts a new student, “tragically unhip” druggie tomboy Tai (Brittany Murphy) as a pet project: Cher plans to make Tai more like Cher. Duh. Semi-crunchy, socially conscious stepbrother Josh (Paul Rudd) does not approve of Cher’s antics.
Written and directed by Fast Times at Ridgemont High‘s Amy Heckerling, Clueless feels like an ’80s throwback, but it’s still a lot of fun. Loaded with great zingers and one-liners, I laughed a lot. It also has a ton of references to ’90s pop culture that clearly date the film (Luke Perry? Snapple? A Cranberries CD?! Egads!). Clueless lacks a ceratin bite that makes “mean girl” flicks so, well, biting. I guess a large part is because Cher and Dionne aren’t really mean girls; they’re actually pretty naive. After all, it takes Cher awhile to figure out that Christian (Justin Walker), the guy she lusts after, is a friend of Dorothy. Hello?
With Julie Brown, Jeremy Sisto, Breckin Meyer, Donald Faison, Elisa Donovan
Well now, Justin Kelly’s King Cobra looks like a film with some serious bang: it depicts the salacious, sensational, and supposedly true story of tres popular real-life gay porn actor Sean Lockhart b/k/a Brent Corrigan’s messy entry into the porn industry. Packing loads of scandal and suspense, it comes with a denouncement of sorts from Lockhart himself (https://www.google.com/amp/www.gaystarnews.com/article/brent-corrigan-condemns-gay-drama-king-cobra-bastardising-story-life/amp/?client=safari). Oh, and the money shot: a wad of bona fide Hollywood stars all in on the action. Hot yet? Not so fast, Jack: if there’s one thing I’ve learned from many an opportunity to view gay porn, it’s that looks are deceiving and the movies rarely live up to their promise. Assessing King Cobra therefore demands some deeper probing to get to the bottom of it.
Taken from Andrew E. Stoner and Peter A. Conway’s true crime exposé Cobra Killer: Gay Porn, Murder, and the Manhunt to Bring the Killers to Justice, Kelly’s screenplay gets into the real 2007 murder of Bryan Kocis, the owner and operator of Cobra Video, a real gay porn production company. As such, it makes sense that Kelly doesn’t focus on Corrigan as much as he does on Stephen (Christian Slater), a thinly fictionalized version of Kocis. A forty-something professional photographer turned producer of twink skin flicks, Stephen “discovers” Lockhart (Garrett Clayton) and signs him to make videos in a room of his suburban home in Dallas Township, Pennsylvania. Lockhart becomes Brent Corrigan, a name he plucks from the phone book, and proves to be an internet superstar as a bareback bottom. Things are strained—Stephen is clearly smitten with Lockhart, who moves in with him and does menial chores like yard work and scrubbing toilets around the house shirtless when he’s not shooting porn. Plus, Stephen is doughy and creepy. Lockhart realizes he’s being exploited and sees his potential to make a lot more money on his own. The shit hits the fan when he walks away from his contract with Cobra only to find that he can’t use his porn name because Stephen trademarked it.
Enter psychotic couple Harlow (Keegan Allen), a porn actor and rent boy, and his intense, overbearing boyfriend, Joe Kerekes (James Franco), owner of Viper Boyz, a smaller porn production company. Kerekes is a half million dollars in debt thanks to their ridiculously expensive lifestyle, which is starting to disintegrate. He’s got an idea for a sure moneymaker: Harlow and Corrigan together in a porn. They meet Lockhart, who wants to work with them but can’t use his lucrative name. Desperate to make it happen, they come up with a way to solve Lockhart’s dilemma: get rid of Stephen.
Although I didn’t love it, King Cobra is not terrible. In fact, it’s a noticeable improvement over Kelly’s first film, last year’s I Am Michael (https://moviebloke.wordpress.com/2015/10/24/i-am-michael/). That said, it still suffers from the same deficiencies. If anything, it feels underdeveloped. The two subplots—the storyline with Stephen and Lockhart, and the one with Joe and Harlow—take too long to intersect; when they do, King Cobra devolves into a gay slasher flick. Ho hum. Molly Ringwald and Alicia Silverstone are okay in their roles as Stephen’s sister and Lockhart’s mother, respectively. However, their characters are superfluous and don’t fit into the story—it’s as though they’re dropped in just to give the actors a part in the film so their names can be included on the poster. Oh yeah: another film with Franco playing a gay guy, only this time he gets his butt plowed. Big wow. For a film about the gay porn industry, King Cobra is shy about nudity; it comes off as sanitized cable soft core lite. It’s not even the whole true story; Rolling Stone ran a story about the murder of Kocis in a September 2007 issue: http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/death-of-a-porn-king-20070920. Kellytakes some generous artistic license, leaving out parts of what happened (and thus arousing the real Lockhart’s ire).
Kelly’s script is so overboard on gay clichés that it rings hollow. Just as he did in I Am Michael, he again gives superficial treatment to his characters here and doesn’t quite get into their heads, leaving them flat—though he does a better job with Stephen and to a somewhat lesser degree Lockhart. Kelly seems drawn to the dark side of the gays, and I won’t fault him for that. However, his way of portraying this dark side is amateurish and uninformed, recalling films like Cruising and Basic Instinct. Having seen the only two films he’s made, I have to wonder whether he knows any gay people.
I’ll end this on a positive note: Clayton is the real star of this picture. He plays Lockhart as a diva hustler, one with an agenda that no one is getting in the way of. He’s pouty, arrogant, bitchy, so stuck on himself, and unapologetic about it all. He’s brilliant! The scene where a makeup artist touches up his butt says it all.