Director Joe Carnahan steeps his flashy new brainchild, Smokin’ Aces, in blood, guns, and an unnecessarily large cast of characters, as every one of them tries to get their hands on Vegas magician Buddy “Aces” Isreal (Jeremy Piven). Over a dozen B-list actors make appearances, each with individual back stories and subplots to muddle an already weak plot. Despite this and other weaknesses, Aces has its moments, proving Carnahan can sculpt a moving scene just as well as he can mutilate another.
Nevertheless, right out of the gate, Carnahan breaks the golden “show, don’t tell” rule of filmmaking by having his characters talk through the first fifteen minutes of plot setup. Although this allows us to meet the oversized cast through some clever transitions, it simply isn’t worth the loss of pace and action that should keep our attention.
Smokin’ AcesIn like fashion, the movie creeps along with the promise of gun battle orgies between hit men and federal agents while the film gets bogged down with too many ancillary sequences, most engineered towards fruitless character development. When the climactic bullet frenzy finally comes, we’re not sure if we want Buddy Israel dead or not. For all his subplotting, Carnahan still fails to tie us to the characters. Thus, whether we root for the feds, trigger-happy feminists, half-naked barbarian Nazis, the sadistic Spaniard sans fingertips, “Soot” the chameleon killer, or Israel himself becomes a matter of personal preference. But what does it matter anyways? We just want action, right?
Well, it only matters because we’re never emotionally invested, making Aces pure eye candy and immediate gratification. The movie works on a lower level, in a gimmicky sort of way. We get a deck full of wild characters to inject into far fetched scenario where they can run rampant for a couple hours. We even get several convincing performances from Jeremy Piven, Ray Liotta, Alicia Keys, and Jason Bateman; not to mention, Ryan ReynoldsVan Wilder/Waiting/Just Friends shell with a dramatic role. emerges from his
The actors make the most of the few poignant scenes, which come across far more darkly resonant than the rest of the film. Perhaps if Carnahan would have stuck with more of a brooding tone throughout, Aces might have rivaled his 2002 success, Narc. As it is, the movie never achieves the same quality as Narc except for a few brief moments.
Smokin’ AcesDeparting those moments and the climax, the film fizzles out just as it had begun, with a lot of talk. The director treats us to a twist ending, tying into a parallel storyline that was insignificant in the first place. If you want to avoid this final ruination, duck out ten minutes early and assume everyone killed off everyone else. It’s better that way. Trust me.
Smokin’3; Aces won’t give you eternal insight or even wow you with its violence and dialogue, but it also won’t kill you. You can surely find worse flicks in the theatre this month, but for all our sakes, let us hope Joe Carnahan gives us a bit more next time.