Suicide Kings (Peter O’Fallon, 1997)
[originally posted 22Oct2000]
Oddly, almost everything I said above about Grosse Pointe Blank can be applied to Suicide Kings, though O’Fallon (probably best known as one of the stable of directors behind Northern Exposure) paid a little more attention to detail, and thus came up with a better film. Six twentysomethings (think a 1997 version of the cast of Boiler Room) are in need of a large amount of cash very quickly, for reasons that aren’t clear at the beginning of the film, and they decide the best way to get it is to kidnap a crime figure (Christopher Walken, in perhaps the most normal role I’ve ever seen from him) and hold him for ransom in an out-of-the-way place. Murphy’s Law, of course, goes into play almost immediately, as they pick a crime boss who’s no longer involved in the crime business. And things get dumber from there.
Sound vaguely familiar? It should. This reminds me in many ways of O’Fallon’s homage to Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece, Reservoir Dogs, except that the object of this heist is capable of delivering one-liners and using his crime-boss prowess to work the kidnappers off one another. The kidnappers themselves, almost all of whom have gone on to bigger and better things, have the same kind of fragile repertoire as Tarantino’s color-coded jewel thieves, while Walken’s character’s connections, the Slimy Lawyer (Cliff DeYoung) and the Enforcer (Denis Leary), might as well just be out of thirties pulp detective novels. (In this situation, that’s a good thing.) The atmosphere and lighting is sufficiently murky. The only thing that’s missing is Jay Mohr reprising Michael Madsen’s memorable dance to “Stuck in the Middle with You.”
Where O’Fallon breaks the mold, though, and makes this into something more than an homage, is with Johnny Galecki, who plays the son of the owner of the house where the kidnappers are hiding their prey. As an innocent who gets caught up in the espionage a la Patty Hearst, Galecki truly shines in a way he never has before and stamps himself as one of Hollywood’s Great Underrated. Even if the rest of the movie were mediocre, Galecki’s performance alone would be worth the cost of a video rental. Thankfully, O’Fallon gives you a whole lot more. *** ½