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
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
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
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
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
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