Joe the King is a film so willfully bleak and profanity-filled, it could only have been written and directed by an actor. Frank Whaley’s debut feature strains for sweat-stained realism as it follows a 14-year-old (Noah Fleiss) drifting into a life of petty crime in the 1970s.
A few scenes between Fleiss and James Costa as his skinny-dork classmate nicely evoke knockabout adolescent-male friendship, but celebrity cameos (Camryn Manheim as a grotesquely mean teacher, Ethan Hawke as a sandals-sporting guidance counselor) overwhelm the slight story. As Fleiss’ abusive father, Val Kilmer (Whaley’s ”Doors” costar) puffs out his potbelly, apparently believing that gaining weight for a role puts you in a league with Robert De Niro. That’s a load of raging bull.