Smokin’ Aces is a bit of a mess of a movie, a confusing mix of mob drama and visceral violence that tries to be both pragmatic and over-the-top. Joe Carnahan showed great skill with the movie Narc, is considered something of a legend in his hometown of Fairfield, CA, and was even briefly attached to direct Mission: Impossible III before he dropped out. The ads for this movie promised an all-star, non-stop kill-o-rama with no strings attached, but for some strange reason, Carnahan doesn’t quite get the tone right. Either that or I’m not as desensitized as I think I am.
The movie is about a mob informant named Buddy Israel (Jeremy Piven) who’s planning to turn state’s evidence on a Nevada crime boss over to the FBI. Agents Carruthers and Messner (Ray Liotta and Ryan Reynolds) are tasked with bringing him in once his immunity deal is secured. Meanwhile, boss Primo Sparazza (Joseph Ruskin) has a contract out on Israel, with $1 million going to the party that brings him the magician’s head. Competing for the big pot are a femme fatale duo, a master of disguise, a lone wolf psychopath, a bail bondsman, two ex-cops, and a gang of neo-Nazi berserkers. Despite the FBI’s best plans, all hell breaks loose in a Lake Tahoe hotel and casino.
I will say that the movie is never boring, although the violence in certain scenes somehow manages to radically define the term “excessive”. It’s interesting to see something like this after seeing the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated, because this is one of those cases where you see something and can’t believe it got an R. A gunfight is one thing, but what those neo-Nazi guys did fell just short of defecating on a corpse, and there’s a whole chainsaw thing that’s as chilling as anything out of Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
“If any of the above still sounds appealing to you, then by all means partake in the slaughterfest known as Smokin’ Aces…”
Carnahan has assembled an impressive cast that includes Andy Garcia, rapper Common, Peter Berg, Ben Affleck, Martin Henderson and Alicia Keys in her first big-screen role. Jason Bateman shows up in a hilarious cameo that involves a lot of drug-induced twitching and a costume bunny head. Matthew Fox also shows up as the hotel security chief, well hidden under a bizarre strawberry-blond mullet. And then there’s the strange case of Chris Pine, who goes from being Lindsay Lohan’s boy toy in Just My Luck to being a demented psychopathic skinhead. There’s no joke about that last one, but I think you can draw obvious conclusions with just a little bit of imagination.
The director finds a way to keep the balance between humour and violence in the first part of the film, but once the splatter-fest starts, any presumption of balance is lost. The film seems to revel in degenerate and antisocial behavior, as if being an amoral sociopath is something to aspire to. Now I can enjoy mindless violence as much as the next person, Crank is a good example of that, it was just childish blow-’em-up fun that was too over the top to be taken seriously. Well, the action in Smokin’ Aces is also over the top, but completely gruesome with explicit blood and gore; it was like watching the showdown at the House of Blue Leaves in Kill Bill, but without having someone like Uma Thurman’s bride to cheer for.
If any of the above still sounds appealing to you, then by all means partake in the slaughterfest known as Smokin’ Aces; but for high-intensity action without the pointless blood and guts, stick with your Monday fix of the Jack Bauer Power Hour.