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Awesome: 3.95%
Worth A Look51.32%
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8 reviews, 28 user ratings

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Smokin' Aces
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Come Back, Rob Weiss--All Is Forgiven!"
1 stars

“Smokin’ Aces” is yet another attempt to replicate the success of the works of Quentin Tarantino with a melange of grotesque violence, off-beat casting, fractured narrative structure and florid dialogue thrown together into a hyped-up stew that all but pummels you into submission. Alas, like most of those copycats, it knows the words but not the music and while it replicates all of the surface details to a T, it fails to include any of the wit or invention that Tarantino thoughtfully included in his screenplays amid all the blood, bullets and belly-laughs. The result is another failed attempt at bully-boy cinema that not only fails to measure up to the likes of “Pulp Fiction,” it pales in comparison to the likes of “Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead” or “Lucky Number Slevin.”

The conceit of the film is that a sleazy Vegas nightclub entertainer/wannabe mobster named Buddy Israel (Jeremy Piven in a hairpiece that does most of his acting for him) has gotten himself into a lot of trouble and is planning on ratting out feared mob kingpin Primo Sparazza to the Feds in order to save his own skin. Not surprisingly, Sparazza is less than thrilled with this notion and puts out a million-dollar contract on Buddy with the stipulation that his heart be removed as well. While Buddy rambles around in the penthouse suite of a Tahoe casino while having his agent negotiate a deal and FBI agents Carruthers (Ray Liotta) and Messner (Ryan Reynolds), waves of hitmen begin to descend who want to grab him first. Among the hired killers are the sexy lesbian tag team of Georgia (Alicia Keys) and Sharice (Taraji P. Henson), super-violent mercenary Pasquale Acosta (Nestor Carbonell), master-of-disguise Lazlo Soot (Tommy Flanagan) and The Tremors, a group of neo-Nazi brothers for whom a chainsaw is a standard piece of equipment. There are also a trio of bail bondsmen (Ben Affleck, Peter Berg and Martin Henderson) who are hired to bring Buddy in alive after he skips bail. Although some of them don’t last long enough to even make it to the hotel (after all, this is a large cast of characters that needs to be bumped off in merely 108 minutes), it may turn out that none of them are needed once Buddy’s loyal bodyguard, Sir Ivy (Common) learns that Buddy plans on selling out all his associates to the Feds in order to save his own skin.

After an extraordinarily convoluted opening sequence that introduces us to all of the above characters (and Wayne Newton to boot) and sets up the basic premise, “Smokin’ Aces” falls into a basic pattern in which every other scene begins with two or more characters exchanging colorful banter and ends with at least one of them bleeding profusely from a wound or twelve before the big climactic set-piece in which nearly everyone goes down in a hail of bullets or worse. In between, we are also treated to such bewildering digressions as a couple of hooker catfights, a kid who is an ADD-afflicted karate freak and discussions about an expensive calfskin jacket that is now adorned with a particularly unmentionable stain. After a while, it all gets so convoluted that you begin to wonder how in the hell writer-director Joe Carnahan hopes to tie it all up and while you have to give him credit for at least attempting to do just that in the final scenes, the results are so inexplicable and implausible that you may find yourself wishing that he hadn’t bothered.

“Smokin’ Aces” is the kind of over-the-top weirdness that is usually made either by a first-time filmmaker trying to grab some attention or by the kind of veteran director that regularly utilizes wild excess as a personal aesthetic. Carnahan doesn’t really fit into either one of those categories–this is his third film after the little-seen “Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane” and the overrated “Narc”–and the overamped and show-offy style that he displays here doesn’t really fit either. As with Tarantino’s works, virtually every major character gets to deliver at least one foul-mouthed and faux-philosophical aria but unlike Tarantino, these bits lack the spark of life that allowed to get to know them as living and breathing people instead of walking and talking cliches–instead, they feel as if they have been awkwardly jammed into the screenplay simply because Tarantino used them. (One such bit, in which one of the lesbian assassins loudly speaks out against prostitutes to a hotel clerk when she should theoretically be keeping a low profile, is such a dud that you’ll be begging for it to stop.) Also like Tarantino, Carnahan has amassed a large and diverse cast but he doesn’t really seem to have an idea of what to do with them either–for the most part, everyone tries to outquirk the others with such fierce determination that it feels as if Carnahan privately told each one that they had the official Dennis Hopper/Christopher Walken Show-Off role and let them have at it.

Carnahan’s visual style here is also fairly bankrupt as well because while he throws plenty of wild camera moves and showy bits of bloodshed at us, he doesn’t really have a feel for it and winds up copying bits from other movies–an elevator shootout from “Die Hard With a Vengeance” (although the true hipsters would claim it was taken from Takeshi Kitano’s “Sonatine”) or a multi-level penthouse-based climax out of “Domino”–on the assumption that viewers will be too busy trying to follow along to notice the wholesale pilfering. Eventually, the empty visual pyrotechnics so overwhelm the material that even the few things on display that do work–there are a couple of funny lines here and there, Liotta and Affleck do some nice work and Alicia Keys, in her acting debut, is an admittedly arresting presence–wind getting lost in the chaos.

Look, I am not necessarily opposed to wildly overstylized blends of pedal-to-the-metal action, flashy visual pyrotechnics and weirdo humor–in the past, I have admired such oddball extravaganzas as “Go,” “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” “Snatch,” “Domino” and last year’s unjustly overlooked “Running Scared.” Those films might have been designed to follow the trail blazed by Quentin Tarantino but they had enough fiendish invention and heedless energy to allow them to work as more than mere copycats. Unless you choose to read “Smokin’ Aces” as a thinly disguised roman a clef of Carnahan’s frustration over his experiences as one of the many filmmakers who was wooed to direct “Mission: Impossible 3" and then abruptly discarded (in which we can theoretically see Tom Cruise in Buddy, the wildly popular entertainer whose word eventually counts for little, the gangsters and hitmen as various levels of studio executives and the absurd latex masks as absurd latex masks), there is virtually nothing in this loud, abrasive wreck of a film for anyone other than the most undiscerning of 12-year-old adrenaline junkies and even they may find themselves growing restless towards the end.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15570&reviewer=389
originally posted: 01/26/07 01:18:27
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell it sucked the twist at the end 2 little 2 late 1 stars
12/11/12 dinamts Loved it. Liotta is superb as always. 5 stars
9/20/12 Golden J. Williams Jr. Deeply engrossing, funny, bloody and violent with an intricate plot! 5 stars
3/02/11 chris c Strange Mix of black comedy, action and surprising depth 4 stars
11/12/09 Jeff Wilder Misses more often than it should. But when it hits, it hits. 3 stars
6/18/09 Monday Morning Best I've seen in a long time. Whaddaya want, reality? 4 stars
5/31/08 matt Great action movie with SUBSTANCE... dramatic and entertaining if a little disjointed 4 stars
2/17/08 SamanthaP it was lame with stupid dialogue and i loooved it! So violent!!! 4 stars
1/10/08 Wolfrider Horrible dialogue, WAY out-there plot; ultimately unsatisfying. 1 stars
9/16/07 K. Sear Pretty standard and dull. 3 stars
7/02/07 Tanya g Yuck, to unrealistic, 2 stars
6/15/07 William Goss Actioner shifts tones and often becomes bogged down in exposition. Great shoot-out, though. 3 stars
6/08/07 caiphn Wow. That sure fell apart in the last 40 minutes! 3 stars
6/06/07 Indrid Cold When will that annoying metallic, high-contrast cinematography go out of style? 3 stars
6/03/07 moms thought the newcombers did a good job at acting 4 stars
5/04/07 Jiz If the Hotel raid was made another 10-15 minutes longer, would have been gold. Letdown. 3 stars
5/02/07 Wesley Not spotless, but still absolutely insane. Highly reccommended. 4 stars
5/02/07 Tracey Chambers if you like violence and profanity youwill love it. 5 stars
4/24/07 Rubberstamp Great lead up to well..nothing. Worth it for the Tremors 3 stars
4/17/07 ES Not crazy about the ending but a great movie none the less 4 stars
2/21/07 Denny Cinematography +5, Story -2 3 stars
2/17/07 lee if you can ignor reality for a few minutes, this is a gorgeously filmed entertaining film. 4 stars
2/08/07 Shobert Didn't they stop making Tarantino knock-offs years ago?? 1 stars
1/29/07 Jeremy Decent movie with lots of violence. Could've been better 3 stars
1/29/07 Luke I'd rate it at 2 and 1/2 stars if I could. Pretty dissapointed actually, but Keys was great 3 stars
1/28/07 Brian Mckay Doesn't quite live up to the hype, but not bad. 3 stars
1/28/07 Molly I would stand up for it. Piven = amazing. 4 stars
1/27/07 Nick Digilio Complete shit. Worse than Slevin, Domino and Running Scared combined 1 stars
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  26-Jan-2007 (R)
  DVD: 17-Apr-2007

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  DVD: 07-May-2007

  08-Feb-2007 (R)

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