Some films are wonderfully deep, possessing depth and layers. Others are works of art with amazing cinematography. While there is a place for the much lauded films of these genres we cannot overlook the first purpose of cinema established well over a hundred years ago; to entertain. "Smokin’ Aces’, the latest flick by writer-director Joe Carnahan will never be part of the syllabus at a school of fine arts cinema class but it does what it sets out to do, thrill, excite and entertain.. Sure there are flaws in the work but this is not the type of film that was intended to be subjected to a lot of analysis. This is the kind of film that has to be experienced not thought about. The only thing that takes the audience out of the moment is some rather odd casting decisions. Overall it is just about non-stop action. While this movie may some day wind up on Spike TV it is extremely doubtful that Lifetime will ever feature it. The film is pure testosterone definitely not a ‘chick flick’ unless your wife or girlfriend has the perchance towards ultra violence.
The initial text roll up indicates that this is based on true events and characters. Remember, this is a man’s film and my gender does tend to exaggerate just a bit. The text further explains that the United States government has gotten rid of all the organized crime bosses but one, the one under the thumb of boss extraordinaire, Primo Sparazza (Joseph Ruskin). Two FBI agents are on the case to make the record perfect and take down Sparazza. Seasoned agent Donald Carruthers (Ray Liotta) and his young protégé, Richard Messner (Ryan Reynolds) are on what would normally be a routine wire tape when they strike gold. Sparazza has ordered a million dollar bounty to kill Buddy "Aces" Israel (Jeremy Piven). Aces is a former Las Vegas magician who became a mascot for Sparazza’s illicit organization. During that time he was privy to a lot of the illegal activities and now by turning states evidence would be key to bringing down Sparazza. Carruthers dispatches another FBI agent, Stanley Locke (Andy Garcia), to secure Aces in the Tahoe casino where the crook is hiding out. As any one who has watched the Sopranos knows a million bucks is on the extremely high end for a hit. Every hit man around is now out to blow away Aces and collect the reward. Not only are the hit men out in force bails bondsmen are coming out of the woodwork hiring the strangest henchmen since the old Batman TV show. Bail bondsman Rip Reed (Jason Bateman) sets "Pistol" Pete Deeks (Peter Berg) and Hollis Elmore (Martin Henderson) after the lamentable Aces. Vegas bondsman Jack Dupree (Ben Affleck) also sees Aces as the way to easy living. On the more criminal side of the hunting party are the Tremor brothers, Darwin (Chris Pine), Jeeves (Kevin Durand), and Lester (Maury Sterling) who are neo-Nazis with just a touch of Thunderdome. Pasqual Acosta (Nestor Carbonell) who goes by the professional name of The Plague brings a new level of psychotic behavior to the fray. He once chewed off his own fingers to prevent leaving prints. Lazlo Soot (Tommy Flanagan) is a chameleon, using several outrageous disguise to stalk his prey. Last there is the beautiful but deadly Georgia Sykes (Alicia Keys) and Sharice Watters (Taraji P. Henson). There is not much to say about the plot here, it is thin. It serves mostly to give the time required by the audience to catch their breath before the next round of violence. That’s okay since no one is watching this flick expecting to hear the dialogue; they want explosions, bullets and blood. In that measure the film delivers in spades.
Many directors have taken up the challenge of combining action with comedy. Joe Carnahan takes the plunge here and does well considering how difficult the task is. To inject humor into such a violent flick is not easy but Carnahan manages to provide an entertain flick. To fully appreciate this film you have to remind yourself that it is intended for guys, preferably guys watching it in a group of their friends. With all the killers and feds running around this could have been a very complicated flick. Instead Carnahan takes it to a more humorous slant. In some ways this is like the old westerns I watched as a kid. You know the ones where the good guys have white hats and the bad guys have black. If someone looks like a federal agent he wants to save Buddy. If he, or she as the case may be, looks like a psychopathic killer they are. This little ploy serves to help the audience shut off the higher functions of the brain, a requirement to enjoy this film. The pacing is a little off. The expository presented in the start of the film is slow only delaying what we all want here, action. Once the bullets start to fly it is non-stop. I would like to have had stock in the company that manufactures fake blood. Not since Kill Bill have so many gallons of the goopy stuff been used. The stunt man union certainly has an shrine to Carnahan in each of their locals. This film has enough stunt work to pay off a lot of mortgages.
The cast of this flick is one of the strangest; most eclectic I have seen in many years. Many of the actors are in roles you would not have normally thought they could handle. Others are playing characters that they have perfected in other films. Jeremy Piven may not seem like a mob informer but he takes his role as Buddy over the top and that is something he does extremely well. In one scene he awakes after a night of flat out debauchery surrounded by about a dozen unconscious hookers. The look on his face is priceless. Ray Liotta has proven he can play a mobster or fed with equal ease. He just looks like someone you would not want to upset. Ryan Reynolds has a strong background in outrageous comedy and is now finding a new niche in action. Just look at him in Blade 3 and you will see what I mean. Here his offbeat comedy gives a lot to the film. A couple of musicians also make their movie debut here. Common is a rapper who like so many of his peers decided to break into film. He is sufficiently menacing to pull off his role as Buddy’s body guard. One strange piece of casting is Alicia Keys. She is a talented musician who is out of place here. Her look is a cross between Goth and Cleopatra but she has the figure to make it work. I just couldn’t fully accept this young woman with the beautiful voice as a cold blooded killer.
Universal Studios has been entertaining the movie going public for almost eight decades now and they still have it. They bring this flick to DVD with more extras than I would have expected. The video on the widescreen version (we don’t talk about the Pan & Scan here) is great. You see every bullet hole, ever detail of the explosions that you could imagine. The color balance is excellent with vivid shades and a flawless contrast. The Dolby 5.1 audio is exception. The detail of he soundtrack is amazing. You can hear the shell casings fall from the gun, projectiles fly through the air and every victim’s groans of pain. There are quite a number of extras provided by this release. There is an audio commentary track featuring director Joe Carnahan and Editor Robert Frazen. They go into the technical problems that such a high energy film required. There are three featurettes that cover everything from the sound effects to the props used. Added to this are some deleted scenes and an alternate ending. Wait until your wife takes the kids to visit her mother out of town. Invite your friends over, order some pizza and tap a keg and enjoy.