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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Smokin' Aces

Don’t ask me why it’s called Smokin’ Aces. I have no idea. I guess someone thought it sounded butch, and this is definitely a movie about being butch. There was so much testosterone flowing in the theater when I saw this flick last weekend at the Essex Cinemas that I thought I might have grown a moustache by the time the movie was over. Manly men dominate this mobster flick and it is definitely all about the action, but, unlike Crank, for example, Smokin’ Aces is a star-studded carnival ride more akin to a spin in the bumper cars than a ride on the roller coaster. There are far more bumps and bangs than ups and downs on this thrill ride.

The plot of
Smokin’ Aces seems simple enough: A dying mob boss under surveillance by the FBI is overheard putting out a one million dollar contract on the life of his former friend and protégé, Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven; Keeping Up with the Steins), a boozy Vegas superstar magician who has agreed to turn state’s evidence and spill all he knows about the Mafia in return for immunity from prosecution. Now it is up to Agents Donald Carruthers (Ray Liotta;
Comeback Season) and Richard Messner (Ryan Reynolds; The Nines) to track down Israel, who has headed off to Lake Tahoe, and take him into protective custody.

Sounds easy enough, right? Well, it would be, and the movie would be over in no time except for that darned bounty. It seems to have drawn out just about every colorful contract killer this side of New Jersey, armed and dangerous. Really dangerous.

Soon there are competing packs of assassins practically falling over one another to get to Buddy. There’s a bunch of “old school” hooligans led by seedy Jack Dupree (Ben Affleck;
Hollywoodland). They have the most practical idea for cracking the fortress where Buddy is holed up, but they aren’t too careful with the details or particularly bright. Then there is Georgia Sykes (singer Alicia Keyes in her big screen debut), who dons her sleaziest trash as a would-be low-rent hooker to get into Buddy’s penthouse as one of a group of prostitutes being sent over from the nearby bordello; meanwhile her lesbian gal pal Sharice Watters (Taraji P. Henson; Something New) is in the hotel across the parking lot with binoculars, a walkie-talkie, and a high-powered missile launcher, ready to blow anybody up who even thinks of messing with her girlfriend. If that’s not crazy enough, also working their own angle are the Tremor Brothers (Chris Pine, Just My Luck; Kevin Durand, Big Momma's House 2, and Maury Sterling, Come as You Are), and they are just plain crazy. Their idea seems to be to shoot, hack or chainsaw anything in the way to their target. It’s hard to tell for sure since they don’t seem capable of human speech, just grunts and howls. A bit more sophisticated is Pasquale Acosta (Nestor Carbonell; tv’s “Strong Medicine”), a master of disguise, who enjoys killing just about as much as anything else. He can pretty much wipe a person out, re-create the dead guy’s face and assume his identity in no time at all. To him, this is as much a game as it is a job to be done.

Throw all of these diverse clowns together, point them in one direction and with one goal, and you know that you are going to end up with one big crash, which is exactly what makes
Smokin’ Aces such bloody fun. And believe me, there ends up with more blood being spilled than during the entire French Revolution. I’d have liked to have just had the ammo budget for this movie alone. It would have been enough to have allowed me to close up my clam shell and head to Hawaii each winter for the next decade or so.

Yes, there is a high body count, so don’t bring the kids unless you are training them to be the next Ted Bundy or Son of Sam. It’s definitely a movie made for grown-ups, and to make sure it earns its “R” rating director and writer Joe Carnahan (Narc) gratuitously throws in some female nudity here and there just to keep any expository scenes from seeming “slow.” While characters stop to explain themselves or set up the action to come, there is generally a boob or two (well usually at least two; they tend t travel in pairs) in the background for those men with ADHD.

The only flaw I can fault
Smokin’ Aces with is the casting of Piven as the figure we are supposed to want to see saved. Frankly, he can be an irritating ass in real life and he is no better on his tv series “Entourage”. Here he is even worse as he works to make himself unlikable, which is unnecessary. Just his presence has guaranteed that. Being nasty to his staff and spending his time in seclusion stoned and snotty only makes you *want* someone to off him. Hell, by the last third of the movie I was ready to stand up and shoot the @#&%^*\! myself if I had a gun. I suppose that is the sign of a good performance though. He definitely nails the part, at least if it specified in the script that “Aces” had to be so obnoxious that even the audience members would want to smoke him. Wait! I…I…I get it now, the title I mean. Smokin’ Aces. Hahahahahahahahahahaha. Dumb. But the movie is fun.

You’ll be in for quite a surprise at the end of the film. It may not be The Sixth Sense shocking, but the wrap-up of the story is quite a “wow.” I guarantee you will not be expecting the twist that pops out of seemingly nowhere but was staring you straight in the face throughout the show. It’s a true Homer Simpson “D’oh!” moment. Check it out at the
Essex Cinemas.

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