Monday, September 9, 2019

I’d Love To Turn You On At The Movies #226 - Suicide Kings (1997, dir. Peter O'Fallon)

           The 1990s were a time in cinema when Quentin Tarantino-clone directors ran rampant, particularly clogging up the box office in the late ‘90s on the heels of QT’s Pulp Fiction. It seemed like everyone, with varying degrees of success, made a crime comedy with witty banter spoken between criminals and overly glorified gun violence. Speaking as a fan of the man’s work, this isn’t necessarily a complaint. While there were a significant amount of these copycat films that missed the mark, many of them were excellent and continued to develop this type of cinematic storytelling style initially forged by Tarantino.
            In 1997, longtime television director Peter O’Fallon (Party of Five, thirtysomething, etc.) threw his hat in the ring as a feature filmmaker. The result, Suicide Kings, is a strong debut and an enjoyable action-comedy that works on many levels. To hear Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes tell it, I’m a complete moron who wouldn’t know Citizen Kane from Citizen Ruth, but hear me out here, because I really think that if you like these types of films this one might tickle your fancy.
For one thing, it’s got a phenomenal ensemble cast made up of both established stars and talented young actors who would later become stars. The always amazing Christopher Walken plays retired mob boss Carlo Bartolucci (or Charlie Barrett, as he is now known) who wanders into his regular restaurant and becomes the unlikely victim of a kidnapping by spoiled, rich prep school post-grads Max (Sean Patrick-Flannery), Avery (Henry Thomas) and Brett (Jay Mohr). Charlie is chloroformed and taken to a private mansion where he is duct taped to a chair and held captive. When he comes to, the men, joined by another friend T.K. (Jeremy Sisto), explain to him that Avery’s sister (and Max’s fiancé) Elise (Laura Harris) has been kidnapped and her captors have demanded a $2 million ransom. To show their degree of seriousness, her captors have apparently cut off one of Elise’s fingers. Upon hearing this, Charlie realizes that these men have done the same to him, promising to mirror his condition with Elise’s.
The men go on to explain that even though they don’t suspect Charlie being involved, they do plan to exploit Charlie’s connections and ask him to put up the ransom money. After much resistance, Charlie finally agrees to help them and begins making phone calls. Further adding to the complications of the boys’ plan is the arrival of another of their classmates, Ira (Johnny Galecki), whose father owns the house. Ira is a hilariously neurotic and whiny extrovert who is terrified of what his vacationing father will do if he finds out they’ve been in the house at all, much less with a gangster held hostage and bleeding on the floor. So he spends much of the time nitpicking his friends’ behavior, kissing up to Charlie (so he’ll “go easy on him”), and cleaning up his friends’ messes. While captive, Charlie gets to know each of his captors, eventually pitting them against one another when he learns that the kidnapping may have an “inside player” involved. Meanwhile, Charlie gets in touch with his right-hand man Lono, played by ‘90s outlaw comic Denis Leary, who spends his time roughing up wiseguys and ranting a mile a minute to his partner Mickey (Louis Lombardi) about footwear, golf equipment and his nagging wife. Fans of Leary will no doubt be delighted to learn that he improvised many of his lines during these scenes.
            The plot, though simple, goes through many twists and turns that I don’t want to spoil here so you’ll just have to watch it to see to where it meanders. The dialogue is sharp and fast-paced, adding to the Tarantino-esque style. Walken, as usual, is able to practically carry the entire film with his menacing presence, even though in this movie he is essentially incapacitated the whole time. This film is filled with all the things you want in a comedic crime film. It’s one of those buddy films that is instantly quotable, filled with maybe a bit too much male bravado, but never failing to keep the viewer entertained.
-         Jonathan Eagle

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