Smokin' Aces (2007)

Genre(s): Action / Comedy --> Dark / Crime / Drama / Thriller
Universal || R - 109 minutes || 2007-01-26
Reviewer: Elyusha Vafaeisefat || Posted On: 2007-01-24

.:: F I L M ::.

Director: Joe Carnahan
Writer(s): Joe Carnahan (written by)
Cast: Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Common, Andy Garcia, Alicia Keys, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven, Ryan Reynolds, Martin Henderson

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Smokin' Aces is writer/director Joe Carnahan's follow up to the indie hit Narc. While the film did get some attention thanks to Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner being behind it, I still felt the film deserved more recognition, especially for its performances by Ray Liotta and Jason Patric. Carnahan was then selected by Cruise to direct the latest installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise but that didn't work out thanks to creative differences. So four years after Narc, Carnahan's next project Smokin' Aces (where he once again writes and directs) is finally out. Watching the trailers and ads for the film, I was hoping that it wouldn't fall into the category of Lucky Number Slevin or Be Cool where it tries to hard to be "quirky" and have memorable characters a la Pulp Fiction. Unfortunately, Smokin' Aces is only slightly better than those two aforementioned films. Carnahan was able to assemble a great deal of big names like Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia, Ben Affleck, Jeremy Piven, Peter Berg, Ryan Reynolds, Jason Bateman and music stars Common and Alicia Keys. While this all looked good on paper, unfortunately no film has ever been made on paper.

Piven plays Buddy "Aces" Israel who has become friendly with the Las Vegas mob and has now grown a head to big for the mob bosses to handle. Thanks to that, the Sparazza crime family puts a $1 million bounty on the head (and heart) of Israel. Because of that, hit men from around the world assemble for their chance to kill Israel for that $1 million. Standing in their way are F.B.I. agents Messner (Ryan Reynolds) and Carruthers (Ray Liotta) who want to keep Israel alive for their own reasons. While the plot is fairly simple, I felt that Carnahan spent too much time with each of the hit men rather than attempting to tell a story. I don't think the number of characters in the film is necessarily the problem but the lack of focus on one or two characters that prevents Smokin' Aces from being a better film than it could be. It seems as if Carnahan wasn't sure who would be the focus and by the end Carnahan picks someone by default and it isn't as effective as I think Carnahan wanted it to be. Because of that we get one of those "revelation" endings which never seem to work in any film.

Entertainment wise, the film is actually pretty good. It's fast paced and the action scenes are actually set-up quite well. However, for every good scene, there would be one or two bad ones that would follow it. The performances were also hit and miss through the film. Perhaps the biggest scene stealer in the film was Jason Bateman but unfortunately by scene stealer I mean only one scene because that's basically all he was in. Ray Liotta and Andy Garcia are both great as usual but I felt they were under-used, especially Liotta. Perhaps the best scene in the entire film was between Liotta and hit man Pasquale Acosta (played by the once again underused Nestor Carbonell). Common and Alicia Keys actually give very good performances in their acting debuts. I definitely look forward to seeing Common act alongside Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington in Ridley Scott's crime drama American Gangster.

What makes Smokin' Aces so disappointing is that Carnahan does have some cool characters but because there are so many other unnecessary characters, he isn't able to develop all of them as well as he could have. While the Nazi white supremacist trio of brothers may have been unique looking they ultimately should have been taken out of the story. The same can be said about Ben Affleck, Peter Berg and Martin Henderson's characters. Carnahan spends too much time trying to create original or memorable characters that he forgot to tell a story. By having all these characters, Carnahan creates all these extra subplots that once again take away from the focus of the film.

Visually, the film is very exciting but at times overdone. It seems as if Carnahan took a great deal of Tony Scott pills since he directed Narc. Where Narc was gritty, intense and mostly hand-held, Smokin' Aces is mostly the high octane hyper-accelerated cinema of the MTV generation. While it works in some areas (especially the final action sequences), ultimately it would have been better if he had toned it down. Nevertheless, you have to admire Carnahan for trying to bring something new to the table with this film. While the film is quite entertaining (which is the minimum you'd expect for this type of film), Carnahan never takes advantage of the great aspects of the film and instead we get a great deal of wasted opportunities. Those looking for cool action scenes and a body count; this may be your film. Those looking for a good story to go along with those action scenes and a body count, I'd wait for Frank Miller's 300, at least I hope.