guppy's film reviews

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Smokin' Aces

Also reviewed this week: Alpha Dog

Director: Joe Carnahan
Notable Actors: Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Common, Andy Garcia, Alicia Keys, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven, Ryan Reynolds
Score: B
Summary: Looks like mindless fun, plays like a slightly overly complex dramedy.

Damned if there isn't a lot of marketing behind Smokin' Aces. I've been seeing ads for this movie everywhere from CNN to Xbox Live.

Here's the setup: the Mafia is on its last legs, with aging, ailing mob boss Primo Sparazza (Joseph Ruskin) as the only remaining major player. But there's one guy who has the dirt to put Sparazza under: Buddy "Aces" Israel (Piven), a Vegas entertainer turned dabbler in crime who has recently been offered immunity in exchange for his testimony. So, of course, Sparazza wants him dead. This makes Israel a flashpoint for all kinds of plotting and backstabbing and what-have-you, the most central of which is a $1 million bounty on his head -- well, heart (you'll see) -- which, of course, draws several of the best hitmen around. And, well, with that many hired guns around, I guess it's hard not to step on each other's toes.

The FBI wants Israel alive, of course, so he can testify against Sparazza. The team sent to protect him is headed up by Agent Messner (Reynolds), under the direction of Deputy Director Locke (Garcia).

The resulting mess can best be described as chaos on film. With all of these people bearing down on a single hotel penthouse suite, everything pretty much goes haywire, as you might expect.

Joe Carnahan both wrote and directed this movie, and it shows. While it provides a certain cohesion from which a film this (unexpectedly) complex benefits, this fact also creates two large problems. One, Carnahan sometimes forgets that we're not inside his head, so he jumps around a lot during the exposition. Two, he thinks his little creative touches are just so interesting, so he likes to rub our faces in them. For example, no one ever actually calls Buddy Israel "Aces." The only time that nickname comes up is when other people discuss him, inexplicably using this three-part name, which happens several times during the film. And Carnahan has Piven play with cards constantly, which looks dumb and has no bearing on the story.

I was looking forward to seeing Jeremy Piven in another starring role, since I've liked him since the first time I saw PCU on Comedy Central. Unfortunately, his character isn't very likeable, though it's tough to say whether that's Piven's doing or just the fact that Israel is kind of a sleaze.

Alicia Keys and her partner (Taraji P. Henson) do a creditable job as a southern black hit team, but they're such caricatures you can just tell their lines were written by a white guy. They're so over-the-top it's distracting, and that's unfortunate.

Other than that, I'm sorry to say that this star-studded cast doesn't do much to distinguish itself. Everyone fills their roles adequately, but few are really great. All I could think when I saw Liotta was, "Man, that's Ray Liotta? He's really let himself go." Most of the assassins are memorable, but that credit lies more with Carnahan for their creation than for any particular skill in their portrayal. One exception: one of the three Tremor brothers, and I'm honestly not sure which one, is top-notch and very entertaining.

Unfortunately I can't explain why I described the movie as complex, as it would require major plot spoilers. Let me just say, then, that I spoke to the friend I saw it with for several minutes after the movie to make sure we were on the same page.

Smokin' Aces is worth seeing. It's an absolute overload, if nothing else. But I can't call it A-list cinema.


Post a Comment

<< Home