The recipe: multiple stories that eventually intertwine along with countless cold-blooded killings. Sound vaguely familiar to Quentin Tarantino’s old work? Unfortunately, it is not. This film is the latest from Joe Carnahan, “Smokin’ Aces.” A relatively simple film, it is the story of a Las Vegas showman being hunted down by multiple hitmen after snitching on the last great mob boss.
The aforementioned showman is one Buddy ‘Aces’ Israel, Entourage’s centerpiece Jeremy Piven. As a key witness to the FBI’s case against dying mob boss Primo Sparazza, Israel is offered protective custody for his testimony. However, for having snitched against the mob, Sparazza puts a $1 million bounty on Israel’s head, including, interestingly enough, his heart. This is where the chaos starts. As the FBI learns of this bounty, so does every major contract killer from around the United States. From that point on, the race is on to get to Israel.
The array of characters is one of the most interesting points of the movie, especially since the cast is primarily all hitmen. The variety of the hitmen is great: there are a group of three Nazi-like brothers (the Tremors), the female duo of Georgia Sykes and Sharice Watters (Alicia Keyes and Taraji Henderson, respectively), and a couple of torture fanatics, among others. As for the FBI agents, Andy Garcia and Ray Liotta are obvious, well made choices for agents Stanley Locke (Garcia) and Donald Carruthers (Liotta), but the surprise comes from Ryan Reynolds.
Known mostly for comedy roles, Reynolds is great as Agent Messner. Full of emotion, he’s one of the three best characters, and this performance should serve him well in the future. The second, no surprise, would be Piven as Buddy Israel. He nails down the feel of a drugged-up showman being shoved back into a corner (figuratively speaking). The character is pushed to the point of desperation, and Piven handles it well. The film’s last surprise, actor-wise, would be that of Common. Known mostly as a rapper, he makes his film debut as Sir Ivy. The character is one of Israel’s right-hand men, and Common gives one of the more memorable performances (expanding on this would cause film spoilers).
However, the problem with “Smokin’ Aces” lies mostly in its lack of depth. The story itself has promise, but execution falls short of what it could have been. While the film is going on, a sense of “Ocean’s 11” starts to permeate through the already present “Pulp Fiction” feel. Flashiness seems to be the primary concern. The methods of killing are quite fun and the humor is sadistically great, but neither save the film entirely. Cutting and jumping between scenes is just too in your face, but not necessarily in the good way all the time. Furthermore, it tends to lose a lot of its focus on Israel. “Aces” becomes more about the hitmen trying to kill each other rather than trying to kill Israel.
Overall, “Smokin’ Aces” is a decent film at best. Quite possibly the best way to put it would be that it is more “cool” than actually good, which is the end result of all that flash. The style of film has already been done, and the life left in it just wasn’t enough.
It’s fun, and definitely worth checking out if you enjoy hack-and-slash films with lots of blood. Otherwise, aside from a twisted ending that is quite good, “Smokin’ Aces” is only worth the matinee price.