Jeremy Piven, Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia, Alicia Keys, Chris Pine, Martin Henderson, Common, Taraji P. Henson, Ben Affleck, Kevin Durand
- Rated R
- Buy the Blu-ray
All photos © Universal Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
y now, most of society is familiar with the idea that human inbreeding can lead to deformations in its offspring, but do the same effects occur in film? Hell yes, and director Joe Carnahan’s “Smokin’ Aces” wholeheartedly proves this theory with a movie that is so fucked up it could only be described as the retarded procreation of every Quentin Tarantino and Guy Richie film ever made. Positively dripping in color-saturated violence and complex-for-the-sake-of-being-complex storylines, Carnahan has certainly chosen style over substance for his sophomore effort. It may yield some entertaining results, but the film loses most of its high-adrenaline appeal by trying to make it mean something in the end.
Jeremy Piven stars as has-been Las Vegas performer Buddy “Aces” Israel, a wannabe gangster who's convinced by the FBI to testify against mob boss Primo Sparazza (Joseph Ruskin) after he’s nabbed for some criminal activity. When a $1 million bounty is placed on Israel for snitching on his friends, FBI department head Stanley Locke (Andy Garcia) holes him up in a penthouse suite and assigns two of his best agents (Ray Liotta and Ryan Reynolds) to stand guard. Israel has a few bodyguards of his own (Common and Joel Edgerton), but no one is prepared for the onslaught that is headed their way. Along with bail bondsman Jack Dupree (Ben Affleck) and his hired help (Peter Berg and Martin Henderson), seven other contract killers have their eyes on the big prize including lesbian duo Georgia Sykes (Alicia Keys) and Sharice Watters (Taraji P. Henson); torture specialist Pasquale Acosta (Nestor Carbonell); master of disguise Lazlo Soot (Tommy Flanagan); and the Mad Max-like Tremor Brothers (Chris Pine, Kevin Durand and Maury Sterling), who are by far the most psychotic killers of the group.
Obviously, the story isn’t without its complexities. More than 15 different characters inhabit several interconnecting subplots at a time, and it takes nearly 20 minutes just to introduce them. As more characters are offed, the remaining players draw closer together, but anyone that’s ever seen “Lock, Stock” or “Snatch” has witnessed this plot device employed more efficiently. While both of these films had characters that the audience could actually identify with, there’s not a single redemptive individual within the bullet hole-ridden walls of “Smokin’ Aces” – except for Reynolds’ overly emotional FBI agent, who stands as the only genuine good guy when the smoke has cleared.
And boy, does it take a while to wrap things up. Just when it looks like the movie has finally ended, the audience is given a lengthy explanation about the story’s big twist, when most of us already figured it out about an hour ago. Did we really need such a lackluster ending? This is supposed to be mindless fun, not some profound crime drama like the director’s outstanding debut, “Narc.” Where was all the action that the trailer promised? Are we to believe that Jason Bateman’s scene-stealing turn as a drunken, transvestite lawyer is the highlight of a supposedly ultra-violent exploitation film? “Smokin’ Aces” should have been a rip-roaring 90-minute action flick that, no matter how bad, would still leave a big grin on your face when you left the theater. Instead, you’ll walk out incredibly confused. Moviemaking doesn’t really get any more straightforward than this, and yet somehow, Joe Carnahan went and screwed it all up.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
The Blu-ray release of “Smokin’ Aces” offers two audio commentaries with director Joe Carnahan (the first with editor Robert Frazen, and the second with various cast members), and while they’re both pretty bland, it’s nice to see his commitment to the film. The rest of the special features are much better, including nine minutes of deleted scenes, an alternate ending (“Cowboy Ending”), and an outtakes reel that, if nothing else, proves Ben Affleck is the worst pool player in the world. Also included is a picture-in-picture video track, a Google Maps pop-up feature that tracks all the characters' locations throughout the film, character profiles (“The Line-Up”), a production diary with Carnahan (“The Big Gun”) and a short featurette on the film’s stunts (“Shoot ‘Em Up”).