Derivative ‘Smokin’ Aces’ packed with sleazy characters

Posted by Dresonic on January 25, 2007


“Smokin’ Aces” is so obviously derivative of Guy Ritchie’s bloody, hyperkinetic style of ensemble crime flick, it could have been called “Lock, Stock and Two Smokin’ Aces.”

Writer-director Joe Carnahan also channels Quentin Tarantino and Tony Scott with his hip dialogue and high body count. Which is a shame, because Carnahan clearly has the capability of establishing a voice of his own: his previous films include the intelligent, vastly superior detective drama “Narc” from 2002.

But amid all the freakish and sadistic hit men (and women) converging on Lake Tahoe for the $1-million prize to assassinate magician Buddy (Aces) Israel, it’s impossible to care about or root for a single one of them. They’re all such self-consciously two-dimensional villains – and that especially extends to Israel himself, played by Jeremy Piven with an obnoxious mix of coked-up bravado and bleary-eyed paranoia. (By now we are fully aware that the “Entourage” star has mastered fast-talking arrogance and abuse. He seriously needs to show us he can do something else.)

After spending a little time with this guy, and the various thugs and hookers who surround him in his lavish penthouse suite, seeing him taken out wouldn’t be such a bad thing – except that would mean some other despicable figure has succeeded.

Carnahan veers wildly between dark comedy and over-the-top violence but never quite finds the right tone. (He does get a couple of good scenes out of Alicia Keys and Jason Bateman, though.) Ray Liotta, Ryan Reynolds, Ben Affleck, Taraji P. Henson and Andy Garcia are also among the overly large cast.

“Aces” opens with a mob boss putting a hit out on the shmaltzy Israel, a longtime associate who has agreed to serve as the prime witness in a mounting federal case against the family. FBI agents Carruthers (Liotta, who also starred in “Narc”) and Messner (Reynolds) swoop into Tahoe on the orders of the deputy director (Garcia) to take Israel into custody.

But word of the $1-million contract gets out among the various lowlifes who have chosen crime as their profession, all of whom compete to get to Israel first.

Among them are bail bondsman Jack Dupree (Affleck, not bad as a sleaze) and former cops Pete Deeks (Peter Berg) and Hollis Elmore (Martin Henderson); the sexy but dangerous assassin duo of Georgia Sykes (Keys, sultry in her first film role) and sniper Sharice Watters (Henson); and an insane trio of chainsaw-wielding skinhead brothers (Chris Pine, Kevin Durand and Maury Sterling). There’s also Pasqual Acosta (Nestor Carbonell), an expert in elaborate torture techniques, and the shape-shifting Lazlo Soot (Tommy Flanagan).

You’d be justified in feeling confused after just reading all that – like “Bobby,” “Smokin’ Aces” crams in too many characters to keep them all straight, much less connect with. Bateman, in one fabulously weird scene as a self-loathing lawyer, ends up being the most memorable of all.

His time on screen represents one of the fleeting flashes of twisted fun “Smokin’ Aces” can offer. Mostly you’ll just remember the gunfire and the explosions, which will keep ringing in your ears from weapons large and small, long after the film comes to its overlong and convoluted conclusion.


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