In perhaps one of the most daring acts of casting, Martin Scorsese directs Jerry Lewis and Robert De Niro in King of Comedy. In the second, Christopher Walken gets the chance to be Christopher Walken and on-screen for the entirety of a full-length film — The Suicide Kings. It’s not quite a one-man show; but it nearly is.
And just as Lewis is held hostage, spending a good deal of his screen time taped to a chair listening to Sandra Bernhard, so to is Walken in Suicide Kings all-tied up trying to get the best of a bunch of kids who abducted him.
In The King of Comedy, 1983, De Niro plays a lifelong loser who has always dreamt of being a late night comedian, a popular talk-show host like Johnny Carson. Lewis plays the reigning late night king. This isn’t “Hey ladeeeee” Lewis or Cinderfella. And he is up to the acting challenge, showing us that the on-air personality may not be at all like the one off stage. De Niro isn’t Taxi Driver dangerous. Instead he plays goofy with a close to dangerous subtext. He too is up to the challenge. One might think that the casting director must have dropped some acid, but it all works in a quirky way, creating a one-of-a-kind film. Credit goes to Bernhard as well, though, given the character, it was less a stretch. Watch for cameos from Dr. Joyce Brothers, Tony Randall, Victor Borge and members of The Clash. In the film, Di Niro kidnaps Lewis and will release him only when Di Niro gets a chance to perform on a version of the “Tonight Show.” It’s bizarre, no doubt. Then there’s that good question, where else can we find Robert De Niro doing stand-up?
In Suicide Kings (1997), Walken is Walken all movie long. I know a few people who can mimic him pretty well. I think all you need to do is break up a sentence with a pause that seems inappropriately placed and show an expression that doesn’t relate to whatever it was you just said. Walken, I think, wants to continually defy your expectations and continually surprise you. Frankly, I think it works. I can watch him all day long. But if you don’t like Walken, skip the film. There is very little else. He plays a once powerful gangster, who has no pull anymore. But a group of rich don’t know that. In an attempt to free a sister of one of the men from kidnappers who want $2 million in ransom, they kidnap Walken and will release him only if he uses his gangster connections to convince the kidnappers to free her. They tie him up and the fun begins. Among the brash young’uns are characters played by Denis Leary and Jay Mohr.
What do you drink when the movies are not necessarily all that darkly funny? The King of Comedy is more creepily funny than darkly funny. Maybe not hard liquor. Or, if so, a mixed drink. Even though the films are neither trendy nor retro, a Cosmopolitan or a Royal Gin Fizz might work.