Walken's eyes reign supreme in 'Suicide Kings'


Christopher Walken may be the only actor alive who can act cool even with his finger chopped off.

With a reptilian stare that would look creepy even on "Sesame Street" and a presence that would make a block of granite shudder, Walken is not the sort of actor you want to mess around with. So he's the perfect centerpiece for "Suicide Kings," the tragicomic story of some would-be kidnappers playing way out of their league.

Charlie Barrett, real name Carlo Bartolucci (Walken), is a reformed mobster with a reputation that won't let him fade quietly into the night. One evening, he's nabbed by a group of prep-school chowderheads out for revenge: The sister of one of them has been kidnapped, and the bad guys have already hacked off one of her fingers, warning that more will follow unless a $2 million ransom is forked over.

The guys don't have that kind of money, but they do come up with a really bad plan: that Charlie Barrett guy, he's gotta still be connected, right? And even if he didn't have anything to do with the kidnapping, he must know who did it, right? So let's nab him, chop off one of his fingers, and force him to get the girl back.

Of course, things go wrong. For one thing, kidnapping Charlie isn't nearly as easy as kidnapping the inflatable doll they'd been practicing on. For another thing, guys who have their finger chopped off tend to bleed a lot, and that gets messy. Then there's the little matter of the house they're holed up in: seems they forgot to turn off the security alarm.

But their biggest mistake is thinking they could get the best of Charlie, who quickly sizes up the gang (Walken's eyes are so expressive and fun to watch, they almost deserve separate billing) and realizes these kids learned everything they know of crime from watching "Kojak" reruns; they're strictly bush, and Charlie is major league.

"Suicide Kings" suffers from an initial setup that's way too convenient -- five minutes after meeting these guys, Charlie agrees to go bar-hopping with them. The bad guy wannabes (who include Henry Thomas and Sean Patrick Flannery) are all pretty generic -- save for Johnny Galecki ("Roseanne"), as a bundle of nerves more worried about scuffing the floor of his parents' house than being implicated in a kidnapping. Denis Leary is a scream, but his character -- down to his penchant for non-sequitur conversation -- is straight out of "Pulp Fiction."

But with Walken along for the ride, none of that matters. Sure, it's the sort of part he can play in his sleep, but so what? Few actors sleepwalk with such aplomb.

'Suicide Kings'

Starring Christopher Walken, Henry Thomas, Sean Patrick Flannery

Directed by Peter O'Fallon

Released by Live Entertainment Rated R (language, violence, brief nudity)

Sun score: ** 1/2

Pub Date: 4/17/98

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