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Don's Slow Burn

[whitespace] Suicide Kings
Scott Del Amo

Wise Guys: Denis Leary and Christopher Walken are married to the mob.

Christopher Walken dominates prep boys in 'Suicide Kings'

By Michelle Goldberg

ANYONE WHO'S seen more than five psychological thrillers will quickly figure out Suicide Kings, but Christopher Walken's intense, subtly comic performance almost makes up for the plot's tired double-crosses. Walken plays Charlie Barrett, a retired Mafia don kidnapped by a posse of cocky prep-school boys. Even though he spends most of the movie tied to a chair, Walken animates Suicide Kings with his combination of unctuous rat-pack charm, outrage and faded power. Before he went legit, Barrett was Cappo Carlo Bartolucci, the kind of gangster so beloved by indie filmmakers: violent but essentially decent and honorable.

It seems that Lisa, the sister of one Barrett's kidnappers (Henry Thomas, who played Elliot in E.T. and hasn't done anything interesting since), has herself been kidnapped. The four boys believe that Barrett, with all his underworld connections, can help get her back. They find him at one of his hangouts and convince him to come out to dinner with them. Of all the twists in this devious tale, figuring out why on earth Barrett would agree to sup with these charmless kids requires the greatest suspension of disbelief. The boys are nearly indistinguishable in their bland prettiness, except for T.K. (Jeremy Sisto), a doctor's son with gorgeous lips and deadpan delivery.

Once the boys get Barrett into their car, they chloroform him and bring him to the summer home of their friend Ira's parents'. Then, having seen way too many Mafia movies, they have T.K. cut off Barrett's little finger. Nebbishy Ira (Johnny Galecki) knows nothing of the plot, and in an overplayed joke, he keeps worrying about the carpet and kvetching, "If some wise guy from Jersey doesn't kill me, my parents will." With his kinky hair, uncouth toadying and screechy neurosis, Ira is almost an anti-Semitic parody, and director Peter O'Fallon gives him little to do besides whine and take abuse from his WASPy friends.

Barrett calls his henchman Lono Vecchio (Dennis Leary) and has him track down Lisa. Leary is hilarious as a hit man with an absurd earnest streak whose attempts at good deeds are constantly rebuffed. At one point, he gives a bum $500 dollars and tells him to fix his life. The bum responds by pissing on Vecchio's prized stingray-skin shoes.

After far too many scenes of Barrett's affluent captors pacing nervously through their stately hideout, Vecchio discovers that one them was involved in Lisa's kidnapping. Barrett uses the information to turn his kidnappers against each other, and the film gains momentum in its last 20 minutes. The irony, of course, is that the gangsters are principled and loyal while the blue-blooded boys are craven and treacherous. But this conceit is hardly new, and while Suicide Kings plays with the idea of mobsters as pop heroes, the director never seems to realize that he's prey to the same romantic illusions about criminals that he mocks in the clueless kids.

Suicide Kings (R; 106 min.), directed by Peter O'Fallon, written by Josh McKinney, Gina Goldman and Wayne Rice, photographed by Christopher Baffa and starring Christopher Walken and Henry Thomas.

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From the April 16-22, 1998 issue of Metro.

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