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Music Reviews

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LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

January 26, 2007
Joe Carnahan's new film, Smokin' Aces, has some trouble deciding exactly what it wants to be. The picture ranges from a smarmy, joke-y Tarantino-esque gangster picture to blaxploitation flick to Peckinpah revenge fantasy to serious cop melodrama. Unlike his last film, Narc, an enjoyable cop-turned-bad story, Carnahan seems to have decided to have some fun with the art of movie making with his latest. But for all its moments of humor, flash, and bravado, Aces' abrupt changes in tone work to its detriment, ultimately rendering it something of an empty shell.

The plot centers around a washed-up Vegas magician and wannabe mobster named Buddy "Aces" Israel, played by Jeremy Piven, channeling his Ari character from Entourage cranked up to ten. Although the reasons become hazy due to the enormous cast involved, Israel's Mafia friends have decided to put a hit out on him, resulting in a slew of oddball characters all making their way to his coke and prostitute-fueled Tahoe hideaway.

On the legal side of things are FBI agents Donald Carruthers, played by Ray Liotta, who seems to shine brightest in organized crime-related roles, and Richard Messner, played by Ryan Reynolds, moving on from his Van Wilder days to bigger pastures. Andy Garcia takes a turn here as Stanley Locke, an FBI bureau chief with a vaguely Southern accent who may or may not be telling the whole truth about the feds' reasons for wanting to secure Israel's testimony. Also on the hunt are bail bondsman Jack Dupree (Ben Affleck), the Tremor brothers (a trio of hillbilly cyberpunk psychos), Alicia Keyes as a Foxy Brown-esque hitwoman, and two professional hitmen. All are intent upon reaching Israel, and some will ultimately reach their target, but you can be sure there'll be lots of blood and gunfire on the way.

Stylistically, Carnahan fluctuates between Altman-inspired overlapping dialogue and frenetic editing, as in the opening sequence where the FBI is staking out a mob figure's house to find out Israel's location, and melodramatic buddy cop moments, where Reynolds has a chance to unleash his acting chops against the screwed-up institution that is the FBI. These portions of the film often come up against frantically violent and fairly gory shoot 'em up scenes, at times involving chainsaws as well as guns, and the transitioning sometimes seems abrupt. That may be the point, however, as the violence becomes that much more jarring.

The film's best moments are its lightest, though. Jason Bateman shows up in a small but hilarious role as a disheveled, cold sore-racked, alcoholic lawyer who has sent the bail bondsmen to find Israel. It seems that Arrested Development has ensured that Bateman will be hired in comic roles, and it's a wise choice. As he rolls over to answer the phone wearing nothing but panties and a bra, his straight demeanor is priceless. Lost's Matthew Fox also appears in a terrible wig as a sincere and overworked security guard in the Tahoe casino that Israel is holed up in, and his performance is a pathetic and funny highlight.

Not so wonderful is Common's acting debut. His portrayal of Israel's confidante veers off into sappy melodrama and wooden line readings when things start to go wrong, but fortunately his screen time is limited. Keyes, however, seems very comfortable in front of the camera, both bantering in a diner with her partner and guns-a-blazing in a hotel elevator.

Overall, Aces feels like a movie of the mid-'90s, from the post-Reservoir Dogs period when too many movies tried to ape the precise pop culture references and black humor that Tarantino does so well. For all its bluster and the mostly capable cast that is the heart of this movie, Carnahan seems to have bitten off more than he can chew, substituting inscrutable style for substantial substance.

SEE ALSO: www.smokinacesmovie.net

--
Jonah Flicker
Jonah Flicker writes, lives, drinks, eats, and consumes music in New York, via Los Angeles. He once received a fortune in a fortune cookie that stated the following: "Soon, a visitor shall delight you." He's still waiting.

See other articles by Jonah Flicker.

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