Movie Review: ‘Smokin’ Aces’ a dizzying hodgepodge of action

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A dizzying hodgepodge of bizarre characterizations and complex plot devices, Joe Carnahan´s Smokin´ Aces has drawn comparisons to Tarantino, but owes much more to Guy Ritchie, with lightening-fast plot and minimal character development reminiscent of the UK director.

Story focuses on Las Vegas entertainer-turned-gangster Buddy ‘Aces´ Israel, who is about to testify against his former mafia cohorts. With a million dollar bounty on his head, and an apparent first-come, first-serve basis, a variety of assassins (with names like ‘The Swede´, ‘The Tremors´, etc.) descend on Israel at his Lake Tahoe hideout, with police in close pursuit.

Plot, as it were, is recited in opening and closing monologues by Andy Garcia´s FBI agent; the big ‘twist´ being that the second one contradicts the first. Everything in-between is smoke and mirrors – one big, long shootout that lasts on screen for an hour but seems to take up about ten minutes in ‘movie-time´.

Yet, this is a film where we care more about the smoke and mirrors more than the actual plot; one of the biggest faults here is that as the director wraps up his complex story, he simply abandons all those disparate characters we´ve spent most of the film with.

With a cast this large, disappointments are bound to be apt. Though Ray Liotta and Ryan Reynolds are good as the confused cops on the case, Jeremy Piven does nothing with the choice role of ‘Aces´ Israel, underplaying to little effect.

Much of the rest of the cast is wasted, including Ben Affleck and Peter Berg in inglorious cameos, and Czech actor Vladimir Kulich, playing a substanceless red herring.

Tech credits, though, are solid all around. Film is about as good as Carnahan´s previous two, the ultra-indie Blood, Guts, Bullets, and Octane, and the more moderately-budgeted Narc (which also starred Liotta); however, as casts have expanded and budgets risen for the director, so have expectations.

Good fun for a while but inevitably unsatisfying.

Smokin' Aces

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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