Smokin’ Aces (Carnahan, 2007)

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In a recent radio review of Joe Carnahan’s new action film Smokin’ Aces, one critic described the best thing the film had to offer was the trailer for Hot Fuzz. That’s a bit harsh and overly simplistic. While most critics have brought the heat by punishing this film in the press, Smokin’ Aces warrants a little more attention, albeit not always positive, than most film writers are showing. Unabashedly nasty in tone and glossy in style, Smokin’ Aces comes from the family tree of Guy Richie, who stemed from Quentin Tarantino, who stole from every film under the sun. The premise is promising: the story of multiple groups of hit-men (and women) who ascend on a Lake Tahoe hotel to murder one Buddy “Aces” Israel, a mobster/magician turned F.B.I. snitch. The killers come in all shapes and sizes, from the openly psychotic (The Nazi Tremor Brothers) to the subtlety deadly (everyone else). Trying to thwart there efforts are a variable cast of big names – Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta as Feds, Ben Affleck and Peter Berg as a Bondsman and a Vice Cop, and Andy Garcia as the Deputy Director of the F.B.I. manipulating the situation the entire way. Plot takes a back seat to the violent exposition, basically short glimpses of the shocking esthetic Carnahan could have brought to the table with Mission Impossible 3. See Tom Cruise, fuck you man, I can direct! Well, Joe, whatever coherence you established in Narc or your BMW film Ticker, you’ve left at the door for Smokin’ Aces. For all the violence, blood, and masochistic characters, Carnahan’s brutality feels banal and lazy, prisoner to the multiple story-lines, explanations, and turns in plot. This strange hybrid of hardcore intentions and the resulting overly deadpan (seriously misguided) results ends up being the most interesting aspect of the film. We get a studied mixture of the life or death modern crime scenarios mixed with the fantastical (i.e. the crazy karate kid in the woods, the stunning display of shots from the .50 caliber snipe rifle, and the ease with which killers escape any sort of consequences). Smokin’ Aces would have been much more effective if the balance of power shifted from deadly seriousness to brutal camp, making the jabs at films like Soderbergh’s Oceans films more apparent. But for all the negativity which has rained down on this subpar January release, it does offer a promising debut by Alicia Keys, steaming it up and holding her own with ease alongside a bevy of psychos, and that has to be equal to a trailer for a British action/comedy. Right?

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