FBI agent Richard Messner (Ryan Reynolds), with fellow cops Stanley Locke (Andy Garcia) and Donald Carruthers (Ray Liotta), is on the hunt for Las Vegas comic conjurer Buddy 'Aces' Israel (Jeremy Piven) who has decided to squeal on the mob. Before he heads off for protective custody, Aces decides to go to the casinos at Lake Tahoe for one last good, cocaine fuelled, call-girl filled time, with his sidekick Hugo (Joel Edgerton). The word on the street is that there's a $1 million prize on his head (his heart, actually), which attracts a veritable crowd including bail bondsman Jack Dupree (Ben Affleck), and would be assassins like chainsaw specialist Victor 'Baby Buzz' Padiche (David Proval), the alluring Georgia Sykes (Alicia Keys) and 'Pistol' Pete Deeks (Peter Berg).
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Joe Carnahan's carnage of a movie changes pitch back and forth between a splatter movie, a comedic spoof on gangster films and a grimy crime thriller in which sleaze, the mob and the tawdry environs of Lake Tahoe casinos fill the void left by undisciplined filmmaking.
The sad part is that it's a film full of excellent performances, all hanging around waiting for the script to decide what it wants to be. The first half hour shows a combination of chutzpah and blunder, as we are given snapshots of the various assassins in the queue to eliminate Buddy Aces Israel - played with reckless abandon by Jeremy Piven, who deteriorates in front of our eyes. This is a confusing and messy attempt at black humour - something I would normally welcome, if it had something more than a gross, overcooked sensibility.
By the time we have guesstimated what we are seeing, the plot has convulsed and we struggle to find meaning, let alone some sense of why the film was made. The expletive heavy, excessive violence fuelled work gives us nobody to connect with, and nothing much to invest in, and when the twist in the plot is revealed, it seems all too silly and slight to matter.
But there is one amusing element worth the ticket price, as Australia's Joel Edgerton invokes the spirit of a thick Russian gofer amidst the cheap flash of the Presidential Suite where his boss, Aces Israel, is camped out in pursuit of a hedonistic marathon. Edgerton's role takes a surprising turn and it gives Aussie audiences something to connect with.
Review by Louise Keller:
I defy anyone to understand what is going on in the first half hour of Smokin' Aces. We are introduced to a mix of plot lines and umpteen complex characters who each give a different, confusing perspective. There are the FBI agents, mobsters, female hitmen and other thugs from various gangs who each have a reason to get to Jeremy Piven's Buddy 'Aces' Israel, a card-shark, illusionist, ladies man and showman, now with a million dollar bounty on his head, and under police protection. The action is bloody and frenetic with the body count rising so fast it is hard to count or tell who will be the next victim. Nor do we care.
The rest of the film is not much easier to understand, although there are snatches of action and character interplay that are interesting. Ryan Reynolds' FBI Agent Richard Messner is the film's most sympathetic character and Ray Liotta who is good at these intense roles, plays his partner Donald Carruthers. Piven's 'Aces' is a wimp and a poor excuse of a man who spends his time flaked out in a robe surrounded by scantily dressed prostitutes. He is always shuffling his pack of cards and pulling out aces, but is so unlikeable, I did not care whether or not one of the many guns in town that were after him, succeeded or not. The two female black American 'hitmen' (Alicia Keys and Taraji P. Henson) are a welcome surprise, spilling high energy in all their scenes. Watch out for Joel Edgerton as an East European thug, who makes the most of his screen time, but Ben Affleck, who plays one of the many assassins, is colourless and badly miscast.
There are double crosses and twists, and by the time the final violent showdown gets underway and we discover who, why, what and how, it is all too late. We are still confused and the characters are nothing but caricatures. The technicals are efficiently carried out and the film has a jumpy, edgy feel, which works to its benefit. But the script is just a muddle with its plot deeply buried in a thunderstorm of blood and violence.
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SMOKIN' ACES (R)
CAST: Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia, Alicia Keys, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven, Ryan Reynolds, Joel Edgerton, Martin Henderson
PRODUCER: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Joe Carnahan, Liza Chasin
DIRECTOR: Joe Carnahan
SCRIPT: Joe Carnahan
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Mauro Fiore
EDITOR: Robert Frazen
MUSIC: Clint Mansell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: NOT CREDITED
RUNNING TIME: TBA minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 8, 2007
RIVERSIDE SNEAK PEEK PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 4 consecutive Tuesdays - March 10, 17, 24, 31, 2015 - at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.