Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Review: "Smokin' Aces" is Not Quite Smokin' (Happy B;day, Ray Liotta)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 117 (of 2007) by Leroy Douresseaux

Smokin’ Aces (2006)
Running time:  109 minutes (1 hour, 49 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some nudity, and drug use
PRODUCERS:  Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Joe Carnahan, and Liza Chasin
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Mauro Fiore (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Robert Frazen
COMPOSER:  Clint Mansell

CRIME/ACTION with elements of comedy and drama

Starring:  Ryan Reynolds, Jeremy Piven, Ray Liotta, Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia, Alicia Keys, Common, Taraji Henson, Martin Henderson, Peter Berg, Christopher Michael Holley, Nestor Carbonell, Chris Pine, Kevin Durand, Maury Sterling, Tommy Flanagan, Curtis Armstrong, Jason Batman, Mike Falkow Joseph Ruskin, Alex Rocco, Joel Edgerton, and Matthew Fox

The subject of this movie review is Smokin’ Aces, a 2007 crime and action film from director Joe Carnahan.  The movie focuses on a Las Vegas performer-turned-snitch and the large number of people trying to kill him.  The film was released theatrically in January 2007.

Smokin’ Aces is the first film from writer/director Joe Carnahan since his gritty crime flick, Narc, which premiered at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival and went onto receive rave reviews (including praise from Harrison Ford).  The attention even earned him a deal to direct Mission: Impossible 3 before Carnahan departed the project over creative differences with Tom Cruise.

Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven) grew up amongst card sharks, gamblers, killers, and thugs.  By the time he was 21, Buddy was a wildly popular magician in Las Vegas, a celebrity who also got to hang out with the most dangerous criminals.  But Buddy wanted more.  He wanted to be gangster and became one before the law caught up with him.  After the sleazy Las Vegas illusionist agrees to testify against his former mob partners, he embarks on one last hurrah in Lake Tahoe before entering witness protective custody.

His one-time benefactor, Primo Sparazza (Joseph Ruskin), a mob power broker, isn’t about to let that happen.  Rumors are that Sparazza is willing to pay up to $1,000,000 for Buddy dead and his heart delivered back to Sparazza.  When word hits the street, a rogues gallery of degenerate assassins, killers, and psychopaths head for Lake Tahoe and the Nomad Casino where Buddy is hiding to claim the prize.  FBI Deputy Director Stanley Locke (Andy Garcia) sends his top agent, Richard Messner (Ryan Reynolds) and Messner’s veteran partner, Donald Carruthers (Ray Liotta), to keep Buddy safe, but can a few agents protect the seedy magician from a slew of would-be assassins?

Although the film has a delightful and wildly diverse cast, Smokin’ Aces is mostly a Pulp Fiction clone except that it has an even weirder cast of characters.  Defined by action movie frivolity, Smokin’ Aces attempts to make slime look glamorous.  Carnahan raises the crass display of bloodletting to new faux art heights.  The film has its moments, and its violence is as much cartoonish as it is nightmarish.  In a sense, it’s like some crazy, hyperactive crime comic book.  The film’s narrative is itself a card trick – an illusion in which the viewer keeps seeing what he expects to see and misses the obvious.  So the ending may come as a shock because it is something of a commentary on the dishonest and sometimes illegal means by which law enforcement goes after a large quarry.

Before that ending, there are some exceptional characters brought to life by actors giving rich performances.  Ryan Reynolds is the best of the lot, but Common as Sir Ivy and Alicia Keys and Taraji Henson as the badass assassin duo, Georgia Sykes and Sharice Watters, are fun to watch.

5 of 10

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Updated:  Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The text is copyright © 2013 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.


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