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United Kingdom/United States/France 2007
Directed by
Joe Carnahan
110 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Smokin' Aces

One of the defining characteristics of American multiplex movies is the easy resort to violence as entertainment. With Smokin’ Aces writer/director Joe Carnahan takes this strategy to the extreme with an action-thriller that presumes the more violence the merrier. In fact, Carnahan seems to have concluded, why bother with credibility and characterization and instead just have violence. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but only a bit for a film that delivers oodles of mayhemic firearm action, a schematically contrived story and cartoonish characters. 

Ray Liotta and Ryan Reynolds play two FBI agents, Messner  and Carruthers, who are assigned to collect and deliver Las Vegas entertainer and sometime Mafia hanger-on, Buddy Israel (Jeremy Piven), to the authorities so that he can rat on the Mob. The latter have slapped a $1 million contract on him which means that the crème de la crème of paid killers are after him too. The obvious question (with an obvious answer to go with it) is: will Messner and Carruthers get to him before the bad guys (and gals) do?

To be fair Carnahan does deliver on the action and thrills with plenty of point-blank assassinations and a stops-out climactic gun battle as the race to get Buddy first unfurls. A major flaw in his design however is that Piven’s Buddy is such an unappetizing little snitch that no one will really care. Quite the reverse in fact.  Audiences are more likely to wish for his early demise.  With such a strong cast you’ve got to wonder why Piven? The part should have gone to Liotta.  Messner and Carruthers provide some point of identification but even with good performances from Liotta and Reynolds there is not a whole lot here to get involved with. On the other hand Andy Garcia is singularly mis-cast as their handler and Ben Affleck is wasted in a role cut short too early.

Instead of filling this gap Carnahan throws into the mix a lot of ridiculous sub-characters  - a trio of murdering brothers who appear to have escaped from a Mad Max movie, a pair of lesbian black hit women with a manager who looks and sounds like Samuel L. Jackson in drag and a psycho-killer with an uncanny and frankly unbelievable ability to disguise himself.

There’s the obligatory resolving plot twist but its so far-fetched (albeit visible from a good distance) that no-one is going to buy it.

FYI: There was a 2010 direct-to-DVD sequel Smokin' Aces 2: Assassins' Ball that only had the title and one character in common with Carnahan’s film and which was, predictably enough, a witless retread of the original.




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