Smokin' Aces

2007-05-29 11:18
What it’s about:

Magician and part-time gangster, Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven), is in big trouble with the La Cosa Nostra mob. He realises that the only way to save himself is turn state witness and hide out in a Lake Tahoe hotel suite. Two FBI agents (Ray Liotta and Ryan Reynolds) are sent to protect Buddy, but a variety of assassins – all with very different techniques – are also on their way. The bounty on Buddy Israel’s head is $1-million and the first one to reach his hotel suite will claim the prize.

What we thought of it:

Nobody plays a charming wanker better that Jeremy Piven. If you haven’t seen him in TV’s Entourage, get it from your local DVD store now. But make sure you watch it before this film, because Smokin’ Aces is simply not good enough for Piven. In fact, it’s not good enough for half of the impressive ensemble cast that director and writer Joe Carnahan has managed to put together.

For one thing Smokin’ Aces tries too hard. Way too hard. Everything is copied from the cool kids, like Pulp Fiction and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, making it little nothing more than a cheap facsimile. There is no originality in the settings – gee, a cheesy hotel’s never been done before – and the plot is so convoluted that it actually becomes boring. Note to director: complicated does not equal interesting.

The uni-dimensional characters only add to the general feeling of apathy. Everybody from the mob boss to the whacky kid seems to come from the cardboard cut-out school of character development. Crazy neo-Nazi brothers? Check. Hot chick with a gun? Check. Psychopathic European guy? Yawn, yawn, yawn.

That said, there are a few flashes of brilliance, which are mainly thanks to the actors. Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta try their damnedest to make the most of the flimsy material, but still end up as gun-toting cliches. The only humour that actually works is of the weird and disturbing variety. It comes mainly from the youngest neo-Nazi brother, a great performance by the delicious Chris Pine (Just My Luck), and a neat little cameo by Jason Bateman as an alcoholic lawyer.

This off-centre edginess would be great if the film stuck to its guns throughout, but no, it has to paw at our already numb emotional buttons. In the middle of all the skop, skiet ‘n donner, we are suddenly faced with long, tearful dialogues about betrayal and friendship. Then there’s a random message about how badly FBI agents are treated by the system they give their lives to serve. Never mind not gelling, these earnest moments seem to come from a completely different movie.

The most frustrating thing about Smokin’ Aces is that while it obviously has potential, it just keeps missing the mark. The fast-paced editing, unusual camera angles and retro titling are well done, but we’ve seen it all before from the ex-video store employee who defined 90s cinema. And Tarantino did it better.

With a little imagination, a more focussed script and a less derivative director, this could have been a kick-ass little film. Unfortunately, Smokin’ Aces fails to live up to its name, as it smoulders limply in a mish-mash of cliches and meandering story lines.

- Amanda Whitehouse
Even Jeremy Piven and Ray Liotta can’t save this muddled, multi-character story about mobsters, hitmen and the FBI. Tarantino this is not.

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