Joe the King Review
By Athan Bezaitis
If you go to see this movie because you like Val Kilmer or Ethan Hawke, you're making a mistake. You won't get the typical flamboyance a la Kilmer, nor the masculine ruggedness you've come to expect from Hawke. Both actors put on weight and changed their look in order to portray absolute degenerates in this film, but that old trick doesn't work for these two. No matter how sloppy, drunk, or flabby these two get, they can't hide their Hollywood faces--they're just too pretty. Both are unconvincing, and when the two biggest names fail to produce, you know you've got a lousy product.
Joe the King is the sad story of a young boy trying to cope with his dysfunctional family in a poor, small town in the 1970s. Director and writer Frank Whaley's debut attempts to reveal the loneliness of adolescence by exposing the heart of a boy made tough by the harsh circumstances of his miserable family life. Set in upstate New York, the film follows Joe Henry (Noah Fleiss -- Josh and S.A.M.) as he deals with an abusive father (Kilmer) and a hapless mother (Karen Young). His only salvation is his fifteen-year-old brother, Mike (Max Ligosh). Together they comfort each other as they deal with each violent and horrific episode of family crisis.
The weight of the film relies heavily upon the shoulders of young Joe Henry. Unfortunately the story doesn't allow for his character to develop because he gets no support from any of the other characters. His mother has no time, his father is constantly drunk, his brother hates him throughout most of the film, and his guidance counselor (Hawke) doesn't seem to care. So we're stuck with two hours of one kid's pathetic existence.
The bright spot is that the young cast outshines the adults. Deprived of food for days, the adolescents survive on a diet of Hohos and whipped cream. They'll do anything for a buck from stealing to washing dishes to mopping toilets. Strangely enough, the adults throughout the town fail to notice how desperate the kids actually are, and their indifference is disturbing. To their credit, the kids of the small town are a lot more convincing and resilient in dealing with despair than their elders.
But no matter what era it takes place in, this film is overdone and clichéd. If you see it, I recommend some No Doz, otherwise you might find yourself being awaken by some theater attendant. Or he may have nodded off as well, who knows.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 22nd January 1999
Rotten Tomatoes: 65%
Fresh: 17 Rotten: 9
Cast & Crew
Starring: Val Kilmer as Bob Henry, Noah Fleiss as Joe Henry, Karen Young as Theresa Henry, Ethan Hawke as Len Coles, Max Ligosh as Mike Henry, Camryn Manheim as Mrs. Basil, Austin Pendleton as Winston, John Leguizamo as Jorge, Louis Zorich as Judge, Amy Wright as Mary, James Costa as Ray, Kate Mara as Allyson, Peter Anthony Tambakis as Young Joe