Suicide Kings

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Special Edition DVD

Artisan, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, languages: English DD 5.1 [CC], subtitles: Spanish, single side-dual layer, 36 chapters, rated R, 103 min., $29.98, street date 10/20/98.


  • Audio commentary
  • Alternate ending
  • Storyboards
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Interactive menus including multiple angles
  • Film Student Tutorial

Studio Line

Directed by Peter O'Fallon. Starring Christopher Walken, Denis Leary, Henry Thomas, Sean Patrick Flanery, Jay Mohr, Jeremy Sisto.

Avery is desperate: his sister has been kidnapped and ransomed for $2,000,000, and his father doesn't have the cash. So Avery and his buddies concoct a bold, semi-suicidal scheme: abduct retired mob boss Charlie Bartolucci, hide out in their uptight friend Ira's house while his folks are out of town, and force Bartolucci to use his contacts to find the girl. Amused by his fledgling captors, the seasoned mobster agrees to help them...but not before he cautions then that the guilty party might be right under their noses.

Picture/Sound/Extras (A-/A-/B+)

I've said it before, I'll say it again: gotta love internet DVD specials. My latest "what the hell" purchase? Suicide Kings, a fairly interesting package that set me back about $4 shipped.

Of course, such deals don't pop up every day, so I can't write this review from a point of view that determines if Suicide Kings is worth $4. It definitely is, but you need to know if it's worth between $20 and $30 (it lists for $29.99, by the way).

That's a potato of an entirely different color. Suicide Kings is definitely an interesting and reasonably entertaining movie, but it seems to lack a certain internal consistency. Overall, it appears confused and unsure what kind of film it actually wants to be.

I knew little about the plot before I bought my DVD. I had a vague idea that it was some kind of Tarantino-esque black comedy, and that was about it. That notion briefly took a vacation when the opening credits ran; between the faux-scratchy print, the jumpy editing, and the semi-industrial backing song, it looked like someone was doing his damnedest to evoke the memory of Seven. (During the audio commentary, director Peter O'Fallon denies any attempt to emulate Seven and explains that his inspiration stems from elsewhere; all that may well be true, but the impression remains.)

However, I didn't think Suicide Kings shared much with Seven other than similarly styled opening credits and a certain desire to be dark and ominous. Unfortunately, the creators of Suicide Kings didn't really seem too sure about what kind of movie they wanted, so the tone of the picture varies wildly from scene to scene - hell, sometimes it flip-flops DURING scenes!

That's what ultimately makes Suicide Kings a hard picture to judge. Some may laud its lack of internal consistency and feel that it makes the movie more daring and less predictable. That's a valid point, but I nonetheless just don't think that method works for Suicide Kings. The movie just can't decide what it wants to be; one minute we get decently funny Tarantino-esque bantering among cohorts, and the next we have some sort of overwrought psychodrama. One minute Denis Leary's bitching about his wife and defending his new boots, the next he's offering some heartfelt speech about his childhood. Yes, various nuances for characters are definitely a good thing, but they need to be integrated better into the film; Suicide Kings simply feels too much like it's made of bits and pieces of different movies.

The picture works best when it goes for that jaunty dark comedy ideal. No, it doesn't rival better films like Pulp Fiction or Out of Sight, but it offers some entertainment. Unfortunately, much of the film - especially the second half - gets badly weighed down with a kind of TV movie psychodrama. It's all terribly overwrought, predictable, and uninteresting. Not to sound too nasty, but I wasn't very surprised when I learned that this was director O'Fallon's first feature and that all his previous work had been on TV. Frankly, it's not a very mysterious mystery; the filmmakers offer some twists and turns to throw you off course, and I can't say that I completely knew the outcome half an hour into it, but I came pretty close.

Interestingly, I watched Suicide Kings right after I viewed my new Saving Private Ryan laserdisc. While I thought SPR was a pretty good movie, I rather disliked the score. There wasn't anything particularly WRONG with the music; there was just too much of it. The score rarely went away and many scenes seemed cheesier than they should have because we always had John Williams telling us how to feel.

I rarely consciously notice "too much music," so chalk it up as some cosmic irony that I felt exactly the same way about the score of Suicide Kings. Graeme Revell simply doesn't know when to stop; that damn music is always there, and it frequently seems out of touch with the onscreen happenings. The score tends toward very overly emotive TV movie cheese, and it rarely seems connected with the plot or the feelings of the characters. I found it to be a terrible distraction and it really detracted from my enjoyment of the film; it wouldn't have been a classic anyway, but that damned score sure didn't help.

Probably the best thing about Suicide Kings is its cast. Neither Christopher Walken nor Denis Leary go out on much of a limb for their characters; typecasting seemed to be the word of the day. Still, both are a lot of fun to watch. As is typical for such a distinctive actor, Walken can degenerate into self-parody at times, but he remains so different from almost anyone else out there that he still is a very entertaining and interesting presence. His work here is fascinating because he really can't offer much "acting" other THAN his presence; he's bound to a chair for much of the film, so he cannot convey any feelings through movement. Walken has to rely on his facial expressions and his vocal qualities to get himself across, and he does so nicely.

Leary's largely wasted in his too-minor role, but I still like him and enjoyed his work. He basically shuffles semi-aimlessly through much of the picture, but he at least adds some pizzazz to the affair when it's in danger of getting too bogged down in melodrama.

As for the remaining cast, the central actors are all supposed to be twenty-something college friends, and they're mostly adequate but unspectacular. I didn't think any of them offered anything particularly noteworthy, so I won't note anything here. Only Johnny Galecki stood out in a negative regard, simply because he seemed to be emulating Matthew Broderick on his whiniest day. Galecki wasn't terrible - ala Jar Jar, I got used to him after a while - but he did nothing to distinguish himself.

Ultimately, the same can be said for Suicide Kings as a whole. It's a fairly watchable, entertaining movie that keeps you reasonably involved. It seems like it could have been more than that had it maintained a greater quality of internal cohesion, but in the end, it remains a pretty decent little film.

Artisan have certainly done what they could to boost the film's stock with their terrific DVD release of Suicide Kings. In every way, this is a very fine product. Picture quality is very sharp and crisp with no grain or artifacts to be found. Since the production design tended toward dark, earthy hues, it's not a stunner in regard to color, but I saw no problems in that area. The print seemed to have some flaws - I saw occasional white spots on the screen - but overall it looks very good.

In regard to audio, I worried that I was setting myself up for a fall by watching Suicide Kings immediately after I finished SPR; the latter film's surround mix is possibly the best ever. Surprisingly, Suicide Kings made a very nice showing for itself. My only problem with the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack stemmed from the quality of the dialogue; while it always remained easily intelligible, it usually sounded somewhat flat and unnatural. However, effects and music (arrgh, that terrible score) sounded great, and the film utilized a very nice sound stage; the rear channels received a strong workout and offered a fine surround environment. It wasn't quite SPR, but it was very good nonetheless.

The Suicide Kings DVD also shines in the department of supplements. It comes chock full of a number of good ones. Key (to me, at least) is the running audio commentary from director Peter O'Fallon and cowriter/coproducer Wayne Rice. Overall, it's a pretty frank and illuminating discussion. O'Fallon dominates the proceedings, but Rice contributes enough to hold up his end of the bargain. While I didn't always agree with what they said, I still enjoyed hearing the filmmakers' explanations of the process and of their intentions.

Next up we have two alternate endings. Both are interesting and would have created a very different tone for the conclusion of the film. Director O'Fallon introduces the clips, adds comments after they're done, and offers commentary that can be heard WHILE they run. (You can also watch the endings with their normal soundtrack, of course.) I would have liked to have seen additional deleted scenes - as can be observed from the trailers, they exist - but I'm satisfied with the two endings, especially since the creators of the DVD put so much care into the presentation of them.

The DVD includes quite a bit else. We get a "tutorial" on film sound design; one scene is presented with a wide number of variations in audio, and you can flip between them as you watch it. It's nothing remarkable, but it's kind of fun. Along the same lines is the "multiple angle" scene. This isn't really a portion of the movie shot from a different angle; it's actually just a "behind the scenes" behind the camera look at the shooting of one scene. It's fun but nothing special. We see a pretty good storyboard to finished film comparison for one scene; storyboards rarely float my boat, but these are presented effectively.

Finally, the DVD features the usual "old standbys." Two trailers appear, plus a brief clip of O'Fallon discussing the marketing of the movie. We also see still frames of two movie posters. Some fairly thorough (as these things go) cast and crew biographies and production notes round out the package. It's not quite "Alien" but it's a very well thought out and executed DVD package nonetheless.

As a DVD, Suicide Kings has a lot going for it: excellent picture and sound and terrific supplements. The movie itself is nothing special, but is definitely worth a rent or purchase if you get it cheap, like I did. I can't offer a really strong recommendation, but I think it's certainly worth your consideration.

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