With all the
depth of a G.I. Joe cartoon, Joe Carnahan's Smokin'
Aces roars across the screen. The thing that makes it
watchable, however, is the violence of what the kids would
do with their G.I. Joe action figures on their own time.
Loads of high concept hitmen circle around a Lake Tahoe
hotel to score the bounty on Buddy "Aces" Israel (Jeremy
Piven), and in the lunacy that follows, come to think of
it, it's amazing that none of these guys got a firecracker
up their wazoo. That would have been nice for my G.I. Joe
Just about everything
else happens, though. Writer/director Joe Carnahan does
his best imitation of Quentin Tarantino and piles operatic
violence on top of a cast of characters right out of Charles
Dickens - if Dickens had done meth.
For the most
part, it's fast, fun and loud, with some heavily telegraphed
plot twists that cover still more plot twists. Smokin'
Aces also has one exposition heavy introduction that
lasts more than twenty minutes and still seems forgivable,
because it's just so obviously goofy. What it doesn't have
is a center.
Hanging on a
decent idea, the movie would have us buy into Piven as a
top Vegas magician that got a taste of mob life and liked
it a little too much. By the time we meet him, however,
it's all come crashing down as his agent scrambles to make
a deal with the FBI. A brief montage gives us the glory
days, and Piven could have totally had us if given a chance
to stretch his creepy charisma.
coked up, arrogant and oddly weepy in isolation. Piven can
play that, too, but Carnahan hasn't given us a chance to
like Buddy Israel in spite of ourselves. With a bunch of
grotesques descending upon him in a race against FBI agents
Carruthers (Ray Liotta) and Messner (Ryan Reynolds), we
just don't care if Israel lives or dies. Heck, we barely
care if the FBI guys live or die, and that's only because
Liotta and Reynolds have good banter.
But that's all
the script really has - banter. The dialogue snaps and pops
as the scenario gets more loony, bending stereotypes and
quite possibly genres. A trio of hitmen called "The Tremors"
are right out of the Mad Max films, quite at odds
with the seedy bail bondsman played by a low-key Ben Affleck.
Throw in Alicia Keys as a lesbian hitwoman and, really,
it just seems like Carnahan has been reading too many comic
books. When I'm saying that, you know it's a little
too wild. If only Destro had made an appearance.
The most effective
cameo - and almost everybody is barely more than a cameo
in this - comes from Jason Bateman as a sleazy lawyer. His
delivery alone would make it funny, but Carnahan couldn't
leave that alone. Implying perversions with set dressing
and a bizarre costume piece on the dresser, Carnahan calls
attention to each and every detail instead of letting it
just get discovered. Heaven forbid the audience accidentally
miss a joke.
Yet it is choreographed
so perfectly. It is fun watching various actors pop
up and enjoy themselves for a few minutes. And face it,
even if Alicia Keys doesn't exactly prove she can act with
this film, every line she breathes works because - well,
because she just breathes so well.
up against becoming a leading man, Reynolds also holds the
screen better than he has in anything. This isn't the role
that will seal the deal for him, but at least he earns another
couple of chances.
you have any hope of enjoying this, you have to turn off
your brain. In January, we get enough of that already, and
Carnahan showed so much more promise with Narc
a few years ago. Then, too, things weren't quite as clever
as he thought, but at least he did have one other color
in his palette - subtlety.