“Suicide Kings” is one of the better, lesser known crime films that got lost in the sea of Tarantino-wannabes in the late ’90s. It deserves a much better fate than its compatriots simply because it’s a good film, with a terrific screenplay, and a thoroughly engaging performance by the cast, including star Christopher Walken, whose character is taped to a chair for most of the film.
The movie concerns a group of preppy 20-somethings who decide to kidnap former gangster Carlo Bartolucci (Christopher Walken) in order to exchange him for ransom money that they need to pay off some people who have kidnapped one of the kids’ sister. If abducting the retired and (supposedly) reformed gangster is easy, keeping him adducted is going to be difficult. Not only does Carlo (who now goes by Charlie) play with the boys’ heads and is turning them against each, but his right-hand man Lono (Denis Leary) is slowly but surely closing in on the kidnappers — Elise’s, and Charlie’s.
The best thing about “Suicide Kings” is that it really has a firm grasp on its many characters. The young actors, led by Jay Mohr as the arrogant Brett, all takes their cue from Walken, and it’s a good thing they do because Walken is in prime form here. The other members of the young cast includes Sean Patrick Flanery (“Boondock Saints”) as Max; it’s Max’s girlfriend Elise that was kidnapped. Jeremy Sisto is TK, the med student and junkie, who seem to be going along for the ride, or is he? Elise’s brother is Avery (Henry Thomas), who isn’t sure how he got talked into doing this, or did he talk them into it? Finally, there’s Ira (Johnny Galecki), who is just hilarious as the owner of the house that the group brings the abducted Charlie to hide in, and whose biggest concern is getting caught by his absent dad.
The film shifts between two focuses — on Charlie as he attempts to undermine the group’s plans and Denis Leary’s Lono, who tries to track down Elise’s kidnappers while at the same time slowly closing in on Charlie’s kidnappers. The movie is filled with humor and tension, with Charlie slowly but surely taking apart the preppies while at the same time trying to solve Elise’s kidnapping from his armchair. Lono provides the film’s violence, moving through familiar gangland venues and getting into violent confrontations. Denis Leary is terrific as Lono, a role he was born to play — hard, explosive, and ticked off.
The film does falter in a number of areas. As previously noted, there are some scenes (in particular a talk about shoes in a moving car) that ring too fake and too “Tarantino-esque.” That last part isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because Lono’s dialogues is quite funny even as the man moves about town with a gun in one hand and the itchy finger to use it. Still, some of the gangster dialogue is just too familiar for their own good, and thus the movie feels…familiar.
The bulk of “Suicide Kings” is verbal confrontation between Charlie and his kidnappers, so it’s a good thing all the actors involved are quite good. In particular Mohr, who chews the scenery as the loudmouth of the group, the man with the plan who, as it turns out, didn’t actually think everything through. The matter of Elise’s kidnapping is also a mystery, as Charlie’s “people” gets closer and closer to the kidnappers, and it becomes obvious one of Charlie’s kidnappers is involve with Elise’s kidnapping. But who is it, and for what reasons?
Although it doesn’t come anywhere close to breaking new ground, “Suicide Kings” is still a worthwhile film in that it’s vastly entertaining and the acting is superior by all involved. The direction could have been better, more kinetic or visually stunning, but Leary and Walken and the young cast give the film vibrant life anyway. What more could you ask for? It certainly rises above its fellow crime films of the late ’90s, that’s for sure.
Peter O’Fallon (director)
CAST: Christopher Walken …. Carlo Bartolucci /Charlie Barret
Denis Leary …. Lono Veccio
Henry Thomas …. Avery Chasten
Sean Patrick Flanery …. Max Minot
Jay Mohr …. Brett Campbell