3 November 2003 | me43
This film lacks respect on all levels
In the past 24 hours I've read "The Body" then watched "Stand By Me"; read "Sleepers" then went to rent the film at a local store. I spent a good while searching for their one copy, then drifted to the comedy section to pick up something light for afters. Spying a film with Kilmer's name on the cover, I picked up "Joe The King", & wondered if Kilmer'd gone back to his comedy roots. Ha! The only thing funny is how some joker stashed this stale downer in the comedy section!
I popped in the video after finishing Sleepers and was amazed to find myself watching yet another decade of tortured boyhood. 50's, 60's, 70's, none of it fit in a "Happy Days" world. Now, thirty years on, and I wonder what horror stories the 80's and 90's have bred and who will get the funding to tell us all about it.
"Joe the King" doesn't quite work, for several reasons, least of which is the fact we can't really feel for him. Where are the likable characters? In every life, there are some, and films demand at least one or two. In this film, all the adults are mean or obtuse, oblivious to anyone but themselves. Whaley gave us stereotypes and the actors weren't challenged beyond them. John Leguizamo's character is a bright spot, but realism is blown by him not taking the kid's age into account. In real life he wouldnta talked to him like a balling, boozing buddy, the kid looks to be only 12 or so. Ethan Hawke could have made a difference if he had put in a little effort... showing his sandaled feet bypasses character development, implying warmth and understanding, but the gimmick is wasted by the flatness of his character. His not knowing what "pithy" means blows his credibility as an educated man in a position of power in a school. Gimme a break!
Some scenes are heavy-handed, some merely sketched. (And what is the deal with Kilmer's mega-elbow?? It is framed for viewing, so why?) The level of back talk and profanity is also wrong for the era. Kids mighta had filthy mouths with each other, but exchanges with adults would have left them dusting off their pants after a quick trip to the floor. The title is not explained, and there is nothing at all to suggest why Joe is a King. His peeing in the food makes scant sense when he doesn't even tell his brother about it to ease his suffering.
Music could have been a saving grace, but it is barely explored. This is a depressing film that may have exorcised somebody's demons, at least I hope it did. Basically, though, this film lacks respect, for its characters, its premise, and ultimately, for us.