Movie Review: Smokin' Aces
FILM REVIEW: SMOKIN' ACES
By Michael Phillips
Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
The title of the greasy Quentin Tarantino knockoff "Smokin' Aces" refers to Vegas magician Buddy "Aces" Israel, a mobbed-up sleazeball played by Jeremy Piven in perhaps the greatest stretch of his career. I kid. He's played guys like this before. Quite a few.
Everybody wants Buddy dead. Writer-director Joe Carnahan ("Narc") stumbles around like an exposition maniac trying to explain why everybody wants him dead, but let's just say everybody wants him dead, except the feds. FBI agents Messner (Ryan Reynolds) and Carruthers (Ray Liotta) want to keep Buddy alive so he can testify against his venal business associates. Reams of colorful assassins-for-hire end up converging on Buddy's Lake Tahoe hideout in order to "smoke" the magic man, described in Carnahan's insufferably self-conscious script, in a rare moment of wit, as "the great white whale of snitches."
No doubt "Smokin' Aces" was heaps of fun to make. Carnahan writes florid arias in the Tarantino vein of "Pulp Fiction" and keeps the technique relentlessly frenetic in the Guy Ritchie vein of "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels." Actors love talking, and it's sad, really, because actors rarely get to do any of that, in between reaction shots and sprints down hallways and such.
Alicia Keys and Taraji Henson play the most improbably stylish of the killers. Ben Affleck plays a bail bondsman. Andy Garcia lowers his voice to Nick Nolte's register in the role of an FBI dullard. Carnahan shoots everything for maximum slime-glamour, and by the time the guns blaze in earnest, "Smokin' Aces" ditches its rampant facetiousness and plays a couple of death scenes for real. By then it's too late for real. This film was not based on a video game, but that's the vibe and the aesthetic at work here: YEAH! KILL!, followed by a few muttered expressions of the horror, the horror.
As for Piven, sweating and scheming up a storm, he's certainly pretty good. But an actor can get too comfortable with his tics and ploys and smiles-turning-into-threats. "Entourage" has handed Piven the greatest role of his career, but until he starts venturing into playing radically different sorts of people - a more novel species of scum, at least - his screen work is destined to provoke the response: "Well, he's good on `Entourage.'"
Written and directed by Joe Carnahan; cinematography by Mauro Fiore; edited by Robert Frazen; production design by Martin Whist; music by Clint Mansell; produced by Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner. A Universal Pictures release. Running time: 1:50. MPAA rating: R (strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use).
Buddy "Aces" Israel - Jeremy Piven
Richard Messner - Ryan Reynolds
Donald Carruthers - Ray Liotta
Sir Ivy - Common
Georgia Sykes - Alicia Keys
Sharice Watters - Taraji Henson
Stanley Locke - Andy Garcia
Jack Dupree - Ben Affleck