1998, R, 106 min. Directed by Peter O'Fallon. Starring Christopher Walken, Denis Leary, Henry Thomas, Sean Patrick Flanery, Nathan Dana, Jay Mohr, Laura Harris, Jeremy Sisto, Johnny Galecki.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 24, 1998
A gangster-noir-comedy that fires blanks all the way through, O'Fallon's feature debut is a textbook example of the triumph of style over substance: 30 seconds after the end credits roll, you've already forgotten what you just saw, even though you may have a nagging suspicion that it sure looked good. Walken plays aging an mafia boss, Charlie Barrett, who finds himself kidnapped by a quintet of wealthy, Ivy League college boys intent on using his underworld contacts to secure the release of the sister of one of the boys, herself a mysterious kidnap victim. Avery Chasten (Thomas) appears to be the shaky ringleader of this motley band of wannabes, but it's Mohr's Brett -- the hotheaded control freak -- who holds all the cards. As Walken sits duct-taped to a leather chair in nervous Ira's (Galecki) palatial home, he plays, by rote, the same seething, quiet gangster role that has become his stock in trade over the years. Leary, as Barrett's right-hand-man Lono Vecchio, manages to inject some fiery rage into the proceedings as he scours the city in search of his missing boss, but even his garrulous protestations seem feigned and unimportant. In fact, the whole of Suicide Kings rests on the narrative crux that the audience is going to give a damn about the young kidnappers and what happens to them, but their eventual fates aren't nearly as interesting as trying to imagine how this tedious, unfunny comedy got the go-ahead in the first place. Granted, all the elements seem to be in place -- Walken as the incapacitated arch-criminal, Leary as the toady, and the kidnapped girl whom you never really see -- but O'Fallon's film is a hollow thing, a skeleton of a plot stripped of the musculature and synaptic musings that could have made it all worthwhile. Questions abound: How do these kids know about Walken's boss? In the grand scheme of things, why kidnap him in the first place? Honestly, what's it all about, Alfie? Not much, as far as you can tell from Josh McKinney, Gina Goldman, and Wayne Rice's convoluted and unaffecting scriptwork. Cookie-cutter characterizations and random acts of violence peppered with the occasional mangled digit and 9mm slug to the cranium do not a suspense film make. And Suicide Kings' morbid sense of humor does nothing but muddle the film's overall tone. Comedy? Caper flick? It's all too much, and simultaneously not enough by a long shot.