Ethics & Public Policy Center

Suicide Kings

Published in EPPC Online on April 1, 1998



Suicide Kings directed by Peter O’Fallon attempts without very much success to present a kidnap caper in the manner of the brothers Coen, featuring a lot of crazy plot twists, wise-cracking and otherwise fantastical dialogue and lots of comic criminal incompetence. Christopher Walken plays what has long since become his typecast part, a sinister criminal boss, Carlo, “Charlie,” Bartolucci, who is kidnapped by a bunch of young men (played by the young heart-throbs Jay Mohr, Sean Patrick Flanery, Johnny Galecki and Henry Thomas) who think that he can arrange for the release of the sister of one of them, who has been kidnapped by yet another bunch of crooks. The young men have not thought out their actions very carefully, and Charlie would be amused by the amateurish approach to criminality of the poor little rich kids (to his lawyer on the telephone he says: “Whatever you do, don’t send your kid to boarding school”) if they had not cut off one of his fingers in retaliation for the kidnappers’ apparently having done the same to the kidnap victim.

Charlie finds out fairly quickly that the kidnapping is an inside job, and that one or more of his own captors must be involved in it. This creates an interesting situation in which he is required, while in pain from his severed finger and craving alcohol, to make some rapid calculations about the young men as he gets to know them, and about his own chances for survival. They, meanwhile, when he tells them that there is a rat among them, must decide whether or not to believe him and, if they do, which one of them has betrayed the others. It is a promising plot contrivance about which virtually nothing more can be told without giving away the ending. Suffice it to say that the ending, when it comes, is rather a let-down and gives us more in the way of narrative than of moral satisfaction.

The real point to the film is the wise-cracking, much of it by Charlie’s henchman Lono (Denis Leary), who spends much of the film talking about his new boots, made from stingray hide, which cost $1500. When his fellow thugs make fun of him for his “fish shoes” he complains that his only other shoes are his Nikes and his Bruno Maglis, and “I can’t wear those anymore because of the f****** O.J. thing.” His wife too, he says, is always giving him grief about the boots and money he has spent on them. He wonders idly about the advisability of whacking her. “A man can’t spend a little money on his clothes? What’s this country coming to.” The saga of the stingray boots, however, is not a comic invention which can bear the weight that is put on it. Nor can we make much sense of a gratuitous scene in which Lono defends an attractive young woman against her abusive father with a toaster.

This may be one of the obligatory po mo moments, most of which come as Charlie talks to the boys about crime in real life and in the movies. His information about the rat, for instance, is solid, because it comes from “a place you maybe heard of in the movies. . .Cops lie, newspapers lie. . . the one thing you can count on: word on the street, that’s solid.” That’s the movies, of course. The true po mo touch. Likewise, when one of the boys asks Charlie if he ever gave anybody a dead fish wrapped in newspaper. “You’re getting me mixed up with somebody from the movies. It must be my classic profile.” But the impression that such hyperclever irony makes on me is always just to reinforce the sense I have anyway that the movie has been made for the sake of the wisecracks. Two of the best come as Lono, horrified by the criminality among the upper classes, says “It’s that f****** rap s***, isn’t it?” I also liked Charlie’s lawyer’s telling him:

“I’m a lawyer, remember. I’ve got friends in Hell.” But this is a lot to sit through for a few good jokes.

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