Suicide Kings

on April 17, 1998 by Christine James
A "suicide king" is a poker term for the King of Hearts, the one card in the deck in which the monarch is depicted plunging his own sword into his head. In this darkly comic thriller, five boys are implied to be metaphorically doing the same thing when, in a desperate attempt to save one of the boys' sisters from a gruesome fate at the hands of kidnappers, they abduct former mob boss Charles Barrett (Christopher Walken) in the hopes that he can use his connections to free the girl. This rash gamble puts their own lives in danger, because, as the enraged Barrett points out, just as he could save the girl with one phone call, he could order a quintuple hit with equal ease.
   The scheme is more than a little far-fetched, and the boys don't adequately convey a sense of worry for the kidnapped girl that one would expect from people going to so much trouble and peril to save her. This slackens the tension, but interest in the story is revivified with an intriguing plot twist. Also enlivening the proceedings is Walken, who is excellent as usual in portraying the darkly intimidating yet principled and wryly humored ex-crimelord. (A flashback to Barrett's heyday in the '70s is the highlight of the film.) Denis Leary ("Two If By Sea") is also a source of comic relief as Barrett's henchman, a perennially seething and sardonic strongarm who engages in trivial arguments about footwear with his pragmatic sidekick while trying to rescue his boss.
   There's some sloppiness and confusion in piecing the elements together, and the story would have benefitted from a closer examination of the protagonists and their motivations. It's Walken's compelling characterization that carries the picture through to the end, as he finds the weaknesses in his captors and pits them against each other yet remains sympathetic to their plight. Starring Christopher Walken, Denis Leary, Henry Thomas, Sean Patrick Flanery, Jay Mohr, Johnny Galecki and Jeremy Sisto. Directed by Peter O'Fallon. Written by Wayne Rice and Gina Goldman. Produced by Wayne Rice and Morrie Eisenman. A Live release. Thriller. Rated R for strong violence and language, and for some nudity and drug use. Running time: 107 min.
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