Smokin’ Aces (2007) - **1/2
Released in early 2007 Smokin’ Aces was labeled a Quentin Tarantino knockoff and was met with generally negative critical reviews despite grossing a decent amount of money and gaining a bit of a following. A sequel (or prequel) was even released last year directly to DVD although it was met with even more, justifiable, criticism. But what of the original film itself?
Buddy Israel (Jeremy Piven) is about to make a deal with the feds ratting out everybody he’s been involved with in organized crime, specifically longtime mob boss Primo Sparazza. FBI Detectives Richard Messner (Ryan Reynolds) and Donald Carruthers (Ray Liotta) are assigned by Assistant Director Locke (Andy Garcia) to get to Israel and take him into protective custody before he winds up in a body bag for being a snitch. Two former cops join Las Vegas bounty hunter Jack Dupree (Ben Affleck), who was hired by attorney Rip Reed (Jason Bateman), to keep Israel safe and make sure he doesn’t skip bail. But there a whole lot more people who want Israel dead and all sorts of assassians intend to collect the reward for killing Israel as well as ‘taking his heart’. There’s Georgia (Alicia Keys) and Sharice (Taraji P. Henson), with Georgia being more laid back while Sharice is a high-strung femanist who seems to really love Georgia as more than a friend. There’s the Tremor Brothers (Chris Pine, Kevin Durand, Maury Sterling) who are just these heavy metal redneck Neo-Nazi types who are like characters out of The Road Warrior only cranked up about 100 notches. There’s Pasquale “The Plague” Acosta (Nestor Carbonell) who once chewed off his own fingertips completely to escape identification. And lastly there’s Lazlo Soot, a man the other assassians barely know anything about because of his extraordinary talent at disguise. He is specifically hired by Sparazza to take out Israel.
The characters in Smokin’ Aces are painted with broad strokes. Writer and Director Joe Carnahan sets up our characters motivation (either wanting to save or kill Israel) and proceeds to delve into action. The action itself is slick, fast-paced and very, very violent. And as in most shoot ‘em up movies, almost nobody dies from just one bullet. There’s a nice Psycho-like misdirection early on in the film that I enjoyed and leads to the film’s funniest moment where one of the Tremor brothers performs an impromptu ventriloquist act.
Because the characters are fairly one dimensional ‘good’ acting isn’t required. That’s not to say there are bad performances because most are fine/good, but there were a number of characters and scenes that ultimately could have easily have been cut (strange karate kid and grandma, I’m looking at you) and still told the story perfectly well. Liotta and Reynolds are likeable as dedicated agents and Jeremy Piven plays the mentally checked-out asshole (quite a stretch for him) role well. And Alicia Keys certainly doesn’t embarrass herself in her film debut, giving a solid performance and looking absolutely stunning as well.
Smokin’ Aces sets up an interesting story but doesn’t quite deliver on the payoff it seems to have been building to. I feel like Carnahan tried to be too clever for his own good and it likely left more then a few viewers baffled. To me it felt very much like a SAW film type of ending and it felt a bit out of place in this environment.
Smokin’ Aces won’t ever play in an arthouse nor will it be shown in film school as a brilliant character study of original ideas but it’s a fairly fun movie to kick back and watch and think “Well this is completely ridiculous…but kinda cool”.