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King of New York: Special Edition

Christopher Walken is incredibly cool and he's been in a lot of movies — which is very good for those of us who adore him to the point of fixation. Abel Ferrara's 1990 film King of New York offers grade-A Christopher Walken at the height of his powers as mob boss Frank White, fresh from prison and determined to eliminate all his competition so he can be, well, King of New York. But he doesn't want to just be the city's premier criminal — no, he wants to play Robin Hood, using some of his profits from the drug trade to finance a hospital for underprivileged kids in the South Bronx ("If I can just have a year," he says, "I can do something good.") Along with his lieutenants Jimmy Jump (Laurence "Still Known As Larry Then" Fishburne) and Test Tube (Steve Buscemi), White obliterates the city's drug lords and criminals, all the while partying like it's 1999 — while the city cops (among them David Caruso and Wesley Snipes) swill beer, complain about their lousy paychecks, and decide to pull out all stops to bring down White and his band of merry men, leading to the inevitable lengthy and bloody showdown. King of New York is unrelentingly violent, with a plot so complicated that it bars explanation. And it's not an especially good film. The plotting is sparse on details and long on action, and most of the characters' behavior is difficult to justify and over-the-top — which is sort of a trademark of Ferrara, who also gave us China Girl, Bad Lieutenant, and Dangerous Game. However, despite being sort of awful, it's yet another movie that you just gotta watch for Christopher Walken: He's smooth, he's sinister, he's sort of insane. His Frank White really does believe in the Messianic nature of his position with an unnatural and uncanny confidence (and boy, can he dance). From what we've seen in recent years of the suave side of Laurence Fishburne, he's a little hard to swallow as an almost cartoonishly "cool" street thug who can blow away a guy as easily as he gives quarters to a group of poor children in a local restaurant — but he's set up well in an early hotel shoot-out that rivals John Woo or Quentin Tarantino for sheer off-the-cuff violence. Excellent actors fill smaller roles, including Buscemi as the gang's drug-test expert, Wesley Snipes, Paul Calderon, Victor Argo, Giancarlo Esposito and, of course, the once-promising Caruso. The ending is puzzling and a little depressing, also a trademark of Ferrara's. Whether you enjoy King of New York depends on your stomach for violence, your ability to look past a script which doesn't quite explain itself fully, and your appreciation of Christopher Walken. The title originally was released by Artisan as a hastily knocked off DVD with a clean but unexceptional transfer and a handful of unimpressive extras (trailer, music video). But Lions Gate's two-disc special edition re-release offers a sparkling new remastered transfers (both anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1 and full-frame) with excellent DD 5.1 or Dolby 2.0 Surround audio (English, with optional subtitles in English or Spanish). Disc One offers the film with a choice of commentaries, one by Ferrara and another with producer Mary Kane, editor Anthony Redman, composer Joe Delia and associate producer Randy Sabusaw. Ferrara's commentary is simply bizarre — the director veers from scene-specific comments to long-winded, stream-of-consciousness ramblings and back again, mocks much of his own work as being sub-par, and can barely contain his ardor whenever an especially fetching actress is on-screen. It's highly entertaining, if only because Ferrara is so darn freaky — and, quite possibly, under the influence of something or other. The crew track is much more to-the-point, covering the technical nuts-and-bolts of shooting the film. Also on Disc One is "The Long Career of Abel Ferrara" (47 min.), a video documentary featuring folks who've worked with Ferarra behind the scenes talking about what he's like. It's not especially informative — it plays like the sort of video one might make for a friend or colleague's birthday party — but it's not terribly dull, either. The theatrical trailer is also offered. The very skimpy Disc Two contains the 45-minute featurette "The Adventures of Schoolly D: Snowboarder," a portrait of the "father of gangsta rap" who was one of the inspirations for the film. If you love rap, you'll probably enjoy this feature, along with the Schoolly D music video. The theatrical trailer and a couple of TV spots are also on board. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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