Retro Review: Suicide Kings
January is a tough month. For many, abysmal cold has you cooped up in your house, unable to leave due to the threat of instant frost bite. It’s almost like being held hostage by old man winter. We’ve decided to take this opportunity, inspired in no small part by the latest abduction flick, Taken 3, to peruse the catalog of interesting and inspired kidnapping films this month. If you can’t leave your house because of subzero temperatures, give thanks that you’re at least not tied to a chair and missing a finger, like poor Christopher Walken in this week’s review of Suicide Kings. (If you happen to be unable to leave because of a revenge-obsessed killer ninja named Subzero threatening to rip out your spine, though, stop reading and call 1-555-Scorpion, he’ll sort that shit right out)
Suicide Kings (1997)
Four college buddies have a problem: one of them has a younger sister who has been taken, and the kidnappers have asked for a ludicrously large payoff of 2 million dollars. Lacking that kind of cash, or Liam Neeson’s personal number, the boys opt for the next best thing…a former mob boss named Charlie Barret (Christopher Walken) who happens to be old acquaintances with one of the boys’ father. Now if your Dad is on “Uncle Charlie” terms with a notorious crime boss, maybe you have some family issues to sort out, but the young lads have more pressing concerns. Being well-educated and upstanding young fellas, they decide to politely ask Charlie for his help…just kidding, they hatch a convoluted ploy to kidnap Walken, amputate his little finger, and demand he use his criminal connections to get the girl back. Sounds like a real solid plan. What do they teach kids at Harvard these days!?
The plan goes almost immediately to hell. It turns out a life-long addiction to the bottle has left Walken a touch hemophiliac, so he starts to bleed to death almost immediately. Forced to throw caution to the wind, they allow him to call his “sources” to confirm the kidnapping and to arrange for a money drop. Being a sharp dude, Walken instead uses mob code to alert his confederates that he is in deep shit, and they dispatch Lono Veccio (Denis Leary, playing a non-Irish mafia enforcer, so bear with his accent, cause he’s a freaking laugh riot in this film) in order to hunt down Charlie’s kidnappers and introduce them to a world of pain. Lastly, the boys’ are surprised by a visit from Ira, their squeamish college buddy played by Johnny Galecki of The Big Bang Theory. They’re holding Walken in Ira’s parent’s house, which is supposedly vacated for the winter. Ira is not keen on the idea of keeping one of the most dangerous mobsters in the North-East bound and bleeding in his parent’s summer home.
And then things get really bad…
Suicide Kings is a wickedly dark comedy in addition to being a noir style crime thriller. Denis Leary is given ample time to chew the scenery and get up to hilarious mayhem on his search for the missing mob boss, and comedian Jay Mohr, playing one of the doomed college students, keeps a motor-mouth stream of acerbic wit flowing the entire film as things go progressively from bad to worse. Christopher Walken is essentially playing the straight man to five fools, and the directors indulge his penchant for telling macabre and humorous stories, similar to his scenes in Pulp Fiction.
Suicide Kings provides a nice counterpoint to the who-dunnit story, which is gruesome and fraught with intrigue. Walken’s mouth is the only weapon he has, so he slowly stirs the pot of mistrust and betrayal, setting the boys against each other, all while gaining insight into the kidnapping. Director Peter O’Fallon (seriously, why is this not an Irish mob movie? Set in the North East, filled with names like Leary, Flannery, and O’Fallon, and written by Josh McKinney, hell it even stars one of the guys from The Boondock Saints…did they steal this story from Whitey Bulger and hope that calling everyone Italian would keep them from getting whacked?) uses several great narrative techniques to keep the plot moving while screening out crucial information. Rough cuts to past events, including a wonderfully staged re-enactment of the kidnapping of Charlie which jumps between the boys practicing the abduction and them actually performing it, and flashbacks to five different versions of the events leading up to the kidnapping (once again, calling to mind other great crime mysteries like The Usual Suspects) all provide plenty of grist for armchair sleuths in the audience to try to piece together. As soon as one likely scenario presents itself, we get new information putting a different spin on the whole affair.
A flop at the box office, Suicide Kings is a worthy addition to the film collection of fans who like black humor and stylish bloodshed. It’s a shame it received such little critical attention, since this film gets so many of the conventions of the genre right like snappy dialogue, well defined characters, believable red herrings, and hard hitting violence that underlines the high stakes and shady characters of a true crime noir classic.
If this film went under your radar, but you like all of the twists and turns of crime stories like Brick, The Usual Suspects, or True Romance, or even older classics like The Maltese Falcon, you should ante up and settle in for a hand (or in this case, little finger) of outrageous intrigue and backstabbing fun with Suicide Kings.