Suicide Kings. Reservoir Dogs. First word: three-syllable adjective with emphasis on first and third syllables. Second word: one-syllable plural noun signifying a group of living beings. A band of males cook up a scheme, they end up stuck in a confined area to talk about it, one member of the band has a different objective than the rest, and the plan goes awry. There are flashbacks to the concoction of the scheme, as well as flashbacks meant to show some of these characters in their past glory. All throughout, the story takes time for some less than germane chitchat mixed in with generous helpings of gallows humor. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the school of filmmaking by bandwagon.
You're probably already enrolled. Writers Wayne Rice and Gina Goldman and director Peter O'Fallon are hardly the first filmmakers to try to cash in on the Tarantino sweepstakes, but they are some of the very least successful. Suicide Kings is a convoluted, senseless mess. Here's the setup. Five bratty rich yuppies (played by a pack of slightly familiar actors) kidnap a powerful mobster, in order to coerce him to pay the ransom for another kidnapping, of one of their sisters. The ransom is two million dollars, which supposedly is too high to pay for these five kids and their rich families, and until that two million is paid, the sister's kidnappers are sending them 'packages,' dismembered body parts to further motivate payment. As one of the kidnappers tells the mobster, the deal is this: 'Every time she loses a finger, you lose a finger; every time she loses an ear, you lose an ear; every time she gets hurt, you get hurt.' By the time the mobster has woken up tied to a chair, after being drugged by the boys and taken to an isolated house on Long Island, the sister has lost a finger.
The idea of procuring one ransom to pay off another is one that seems to have some potential, but Suicide Kings doesn't mine any of it. The script is extraordinarily lazy in developing its premise, and the holes start to show through from the get-go. The successful kidnapping which leads off the film is orchestrated by a stupid plan that succeeds because the writers need it to succeed, not because it has any cleverness or basis in logical human behavior. Then the kids start cutting off body parts to coerce their prey into getting the money together, since he's a powerful mobster who can do such things. But the most obvious question, that's not once addressed, is that if he's a powerful mobster who can do such things, how could they possible figure that they'd get away with such a scheme unscathed, even if they planned on killing him afterwards? And this is only the beginning. As the plot progresses into all the twists and double-crosses this subgenre demands, it just gets more and more murky and convoluted.
Just like the plot, the tone of Suicide Kings is absolutely all over the place. The premise allows ample opportunity for gab, of which the film takes full advantage, and conversation energized by such a high-tension scenario allows ample opportunity for witticisms and ironic reflections and desperately compelling pleas, of which the script takes no advantage. The film's idea of humor is to have the yuppie whose parents own the house yap and whine incessantly about how much his buddies are messing it up, and how mad his mom and dad are going to get. Or it's cutting away to the mobster's driver (Denis Leary), so he can complain yet again about the ridicule he's getting for his boots. Then the film splashes cold water on itself for some downright earnest crying jags that slap on the heavy music and teary-eyed close-ups. Yuck. Without a plot that makes a lick of sense, and without a character given a single logically motivated thing to do, the last thing a movie is going to achieve is to get us to care about anything that happens, or about to whom it's happening. Watching such an attempt is far more discomforting than any mere limb dismemberment.
And then there's the film's coup de grace. Christopher Walken plays the mobster. It's completely unsurprising, looking at the film's overall lack of imagination and thought, to see how he would be first choice for the lead; the filmmakers have reached the insightful conclusion that, since he's already done the role ad nauseam, he'd be perfect for it. No, what's truly surprising is that Walken would read this script and think it was a good idea for him to do this, again, with such wimpier material. He's already done these roles in his sleep. It's hard to deny Walken's silky fascination, and it's always fun to listen to his melodious voice and quirky choice of syllable emphasis (he could put more creativity into the pronunciation of the words 'suicide kings' than that put into this entire production). But, as with any actor with no material to work with, he's left hanging out to dry. Or taken hostage, if you will. Taken hostage by unimaginative, derivative filmmakers looking to feed on the blood of a successful formula. They should get a name. Bandwagon Sharks, perhaps.