Smokin’ Aces (2007)
Smokin’ Aces (2007)

Genre: Action Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.

Release Date: January 26th, 2007 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Joe Carnahan Actors: Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven, Ben Affleck, Common, Andy Garcia, Alicia Keys, Taraji P. Henson, Chris Pine, Joel Edgerton, Jason Bateman, Peter Berg

 


 

“S

mokin’ Aces” is a hyper-stylized shoot-‘em-up flick with enough artillery, broads, and bloodshed to satisfy any adventure hound. However, with its curious pacing – involving sentimental, emotional, or comedic scenes that interrupt the flow of abrasive action – the film challenges audiences to disregard its uneven focus. With an unusually large collection of characters, albeit interesting and vastly eccentric, “Smokin’ Aces” may unintentionally lose viewers who decide that sorting out the oftentimes knotty mayhem is entirely too much work for a simple actioner.

Mob boss Primo Sparazza (Joseph Ruskin) has taken out a $1,000,000 hit on drugged up and frantic Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven), an overconfident magician who is being approached by the FBI to testify against the Vegas underworld. As word hits the streets, an ensemble of degenerates and cold-blooded thugs descend upon Aces’ Lake Tahoe penthouse. The FBI wants him alive but everyone else wants him dead, leading to a climactic showdown that is certain to leave no one left unscathed.

For a film based most prominently in the action genre, it’s bitterly intense and visually daring. Massive artillery and brutal, hidden armaments make for some surprisingly nasty confrontations. The shootouts in the hotel are well-choreographed and staged, managing to show just enough bloody havoc without veering into over-the-top ridiculousness. Uniquely scripted showdowns – including a skirmish with a chainsaw and machetes – add dark humor and witty violence to the uncommon fight scenarios. The many hardcore action scenes work nicely for visceral intensity and white-knuckle suspense, but it’s truly a shame that a major drawback arrives in the decision to butcher several of these moments with unnecessary and underdeveloped intrusions of either humor, sentiment, or forced emotion, which utterly kill the pacing.

In one instant, psychopathic, neo-Nazi speed-freaks lunge from an elevator with guns blazing (and chainsaws revving), only to be replaced by a cut to a calm conversation, or Israel’s psychedelic hysteria. Even when vicious hitmen murder an unsuspecting hotel security chief in a startling split-second, the film again interrupts itself with an off-kilter aside so that a killer can gently talk his victim through his final moments. In a project that allocates more time for character development, such actions might be comprehendible, but here, audiences are given curt introductions to a sizable cast, with a premise that can’t withstand squandered minutes. Although there are unique, oddball characters at every turn (akin to “The Usual Suspects”), there are also, literally, a dozen or more key figures that are nearly impossible to keep track of. And none of them – neither slaughterers nor, more importantly, the protagonists – receive proper screen time, leaving viewers with mere shells of personas. The FBI agents and other presumed heroes (or law-abiding/law-representing roles) also induce little sympathy, meaning that a given character’s survival or demise is practically irrelevant. Several sequences are even devoted to completely worthless bit parts, such as an elderly, crazy woman and her nunchuk-obsessed son. As it so happens, the most impressive designs, such as the three maniac brothers, receive the most inadequate amounts of time in front of the camera.

The story itself is predictable in its formulaic structuring, yet confusing in its desperate complexity. But guessing at a twist ending or multiple double-crosses is easy when careless foreshadowing spoils the potential for surprises. Futilely, convoluted situations continually become more unnecessarily intricate, intended to shock but resulting instead in the need for further unwanted exposition. Reminiscent of last year’s “Lucky Number Slevin,” which became so tortuous that the entire finale had to resort to flashbacks solely to offer up a feasible explanation, “Smokin’ Aces” just might have general audiences hopelessly lost in its details and digressions.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10