Kidnappers on a Clever ‘Suicide’ Mission
In the admirably swift opening of the psychological mystery thriller “Suicide Kings,” a smart B-picture with lots of A-pluses, a shrewd veteran gangster, wonderfully well-played by Christopher Walken, is kidnapped by a bunch of preppy types and whisked off to a suburban mansion.
It seems that the sister of one of the kidnappers (Henry Thomas) has herself been kidnapped and is being held for a $2-million ransom. What to do but zero in on Walken, who’s sure to have access to that kind of money? (Thomas has credible reasons for not turning to his own rich father.)
“You didn’t think this thing through too good, did you?” asks Walken, though he was initially impressed that these guys could grab him, dope him and tie him in a chair. But once they’ve pulled off their daring snatch, they seem to have serious problems figuring just how to play out the rest of their caper. They haven’t exactly endeared themselves to Walken, having chopped off one of his fingers, explaining that they’ve already received one of Thomas’ sister’s fingers from her kidnappers.
If Thomas and his pals seem unsure of what to do next, that’s not the case with debuting director Peter O’Fallon and his producer Wayne Rice, who wrote “Suicide Kings’ ” exceedingly clever script with Josh McKinney and Gina Goldman. What ensues is a classic battle of wits, sustained by strong characterizations and a plot packed with surprises.
Early on, “Suicide Kings” deftly establishes the gangster’s superiority over his captors. He’s much like Beat Takeshi’s gangster in the current “Sonatine.” Walken’s Charlie Barrett (born Carlo Bartolucci) is a cold-blooded killer, but he has wit, courage and strength of character way beyond what these preppy jerks could imagine. Barrett is at least a man of his word.
As for his captors, in addition to Thomas’ ineffectual Avery, they are a med student, T.K. (Jeremy Sisto), who Charlie immediately realizes is on dope; Max (Sean Patrick Flanery), the kidnapped sister’s boyfriend; Brett (Jay Mohr), an obnoxious hothead; and Ira (Johnny Galecki).
“Suicide Kings,” which takes its title from a game of poker, belongs primarily to Walken and Galecki, cast as a naive rich nerd, and they run with it. Ira has been conned into letting the guys he’d like to have as his pals use the immaculate, elegant home of his parents (who are away, natch) as the place to hold Charlie prisoner. Poor Ira shrieks at the outrage of what’s going on, not to mention how disrespectful the guys are of his parents’ expensive furnishings (and their liquor supply).
Galecki’s Ira is hilarious, but Charlie knows that of the entire group he’s the only one worth anything. For Ira, the incident proves to be an unexpected rite of passage.
While “Suicide Kings” takes place primarily in Ira’s family mansion, there is lots going on elsewhere involving an amusing Denis Leary as Charlie’s hit man, a guy obsessed with expensive boots. Striking a more serious note are Charlie’s loyal supporters, his level-headed lawyer (Cliff DeYoung, impeccable as always) and Laura San Giacomo as a madam operating under Charlie’s protection. The film’s writers provided good material for the film’s many actors, all of whom excel under O’Fallon’s taut direction. The film benefits from another of Graeme Revell’s mood-enhancing scores.
O’Fallon and ace cinematographer Christopher Baffa, sticking to tightly composed shots, make downtown L.A. pass for Midtown Manhattan in acceptable fashion in the film’s opening sequences, and “Suicide Kings” has lots of rhythm and pace for a film so substantially confined to one setting. This Live Entertainment release is satisfying, unpretentious fun.
* MPAA rating: R, for strong violence and language, and for some nudity and drug use. Times guidelines: The film is overly strong fare for youngsters.
Christopher Walken: Carol Bartolucci/Charlie Barrett
Denis Leary: Lono Vecchio
Sean Patrick Flanery: Max Minot
Johnny Galecki: Ira Reder
Jay Mohr: Brett Cambell
Jeremy Sisto: T.K.
Henry Thomas: Avery Chasten
A Live Entertainment release. Director Peter O’Fallon. Producers Wayne Rice, Morrie Eisenman. Executive producer Stephen Drimmer. Screenplay by Josh McKinney, Gina Goldman, Rice. Cinematographer Christopher Baffa. Editor Chris Peppe. Music Graeme Revell. Production designer Clark Hunter. Art director Max Biscoe. Set decorator Traci Kirshbaum. Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.