Director Joe Carnahan made a big impression
with the low budget but highly competent cop drama NARC.
Hollywood was immediately taken with his talent behind the camera. Now
he's been given a lot more money, and a powerful and diversified cast to make
a big budget action flick titled SMOKIN' ACES. With such a
respectable first effort, can Carnahan follow it up appropriately?
When FBI agents Richard Messner (Ryan Reynolds) and Donald Carruthers (Ray
Liotta) discover a mob plot to kill Vegas entertainer Buddy 'Aces' Israel
(Jeremy Piven), they become determined to put a stop to it. Their
superior Stanley Locke (Andy Garcia) lets them in on an old mob case which may
or not have a bearing on the assigned hit. But the bounty on Israel is a
cool million bucks which draws the attention of all the major hit men (and
women) around. The players includes bail bondsman Jack Dupree (Ben
Affleck) and his buddies Pete Dekes (Peter Berg) and Hollis Elmore (Martin
Henderson), the female assassination team of Georgia Sykes (Alicia Keys) and
Loretta Wyman (Taraji P, Henson), psychotic torturer Pasquale Acosta (Nestor
Carbonell), mystery man Lazlo Soot (Tommy Flanagan), and the nihilistic Tremor
Brothers (Chris Pine, Kevin Durand, and Maury Sterling). With Buddy now
a target, Messner and Carruthers must get to him before anyone else does.
But with that much money at stake, there's gonna be a lot of greedy psychos in
This gritty crime drama suffers two major problems. First and foremost
the script is rather disjointed. There are moments where we have
Tarantino-esque action sequences, filled with gratuitous violence and witty
dialogue exchanges. Then we're suddenly thrust into a rather serious and
thought-provoking crime drama, meant to stimulate the thinking man in the
audience. There's little to no cohesion in the screenplay, and the movie
ends up feeling all over the place as a result. The second shortcoming
comes from the underdeveloped characters, none of which we ever really care
about. Sure, some will live, and many will die, but in end we're not
really invested enough for it to matter. Oh sure, they're all eccentric,
and many are memorable, but beyond that there's no substance behind them.
There are also missed opportunities with characters like Buddy Israel.
Here's a guy who has lived a life of excess, and is now literally under the
gun. With the situations taking place around him, there are more than a
few chances for some sort of redemption. Sadly he's just a schmuck
through and through, and again, we don't care if he gets it or not.
SMOKIN' ACES is one of those movies that plays off the
OCEAN'S ELEVEN type of mentality. Let's put a bunch of cool actors
in a flashy movie, let 'em act cool, and the audience will love it. But
where OCEAN'S ELEVEN pulled it off, this one falls rather flat.
Who is the hero? Is it Ryan Reynolds? Am I supposed to be cheering
for him? Heck, I don't know. Should Buddy Israel die? Maybe.
Does any of this matter. God only knows. Ensemble pieces like this
either work or don't, but a poorly executed screenplay can easily destroy the
best cast ever assembled. Joe Carnahan succeeds in directing this
madness in style. It's shot beautifully, and everyone looks interesting,
but none of it meshes. Initially I was on board with the story,
especially when a few major characters are rather unexpectedly obliterated
early in the story. I thought "Hey, this may be a nice surprise."
But as the story unfolded, I found the whole thing convoluted and too hectic
for it's own good. Instead of concentrating on the impending hit (or
hits) put out on Buddy, the script tries to incorporate a secretive mob story
that took place years ago, and tie it in with the present day events.
Oh, and the heavy-handed ending, totally doesn't fit everything that comes
before it. Now let me talk about the stuff that works. The action
is great. When all hell breaks loose, it really breaks loose.
Simple things like two guys shooting each other are ramped up to an explosive
level the likes of which we've never seen. It's disturbing and chaotic,
but it works. Jason Bateman shows up as a sleazy lawyer, and is
hilarious from start to finish, while he's in it. Common is surprisingly
good as Buddy Israel's right hand man, and might just be the most likable
character in the film when all is said and done. LOST star
Matthew Fox shows up in a cameo that's one of the better scenes in the movie,
even if we know right away where it's headed. The thugs.
Carnahan did manage to introduce us to some uniquely diversified baddies, and
they're different enough to remain fascinating in their own separate ways.
Often times in films like this we get cookie-cutter bad guys that could've
walked off the set of several other films. These scumbags are just
different enough to be somewhat refreshing. But aside from that one
strong point, this film is pretty much a mess. I like Andy Garcia, I
like Ryan Reynolds, I really like Jeremy Piven, and Ray Liotta is always fun
to watch... but even these guys can't save this film, sorry to say.
BIGFANBOY.com score - On a scale of
1 to 10, 10 being best, I give SMOKIN' ACES a 5.
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