The plot is simple -- or is it? Smokin' Aces is the kind of movie where it's possible to walk into the theatre not knowing anything about it. It's portrayed largely as a 'race to the prize' type film, and in some regards I guess it is.
But this film's an onion (pardon the cliché), and layers abound. The story is of Mafioso wannabe turned genuine thug Buddy "Aces" Isreal (Jeremy Piven), a man desperate to find a way out. He's painted himself into a blood soaked corner, and turning on his mob ties seems the only exit. But Buddy knows that witness protection equals no protection against the kind of men who are out to get him, and his old partners in crime have already signed the contract on his life.
Or is the story about FBI Agent Richard Messner (Ryan Reynolds), a man who sees the good in established society? He fights for justice, and for his fellow officers of the law, eager to put the bad guys behind bars -- that is until his own government organization turns on him. His ideals are crushed along with his spirit, and it's a blow from which he's likely to never recover.
Or better still, is this story about the group of hit men and women all hired to beat Messner to the finish line and kill Buddy? It's hard to say. This movie is confusing, but I truly think that's part of its charm (if a shoot 'em up can possess charm).
Everyone tries to get to Buddy before its too late, and suddenly Writer/Director Joe Carnahan (Narc, one of my top five picks for the past decade) throws in a twist. While I won't spoil it here, you're likely to see it a mile away, but that doesn't take anything from the chaotic fun of this film.
Add in an all-star cast of sadistic German assigns, two love crossed sexy killers, a psychotic master of disguise and a man who claims torture as a hobby, and you've got your self a good action film.
The main appeal here is the acting. Jeremy Piven, who plays the targeted key witness against the Mob, is incredible. His character teeters on the fence between domination and despair, and Piven pulls it off -- of course. That's an easy statement to make because he's stood out and stolen the show since he was supporting in films like Very Bad Things and Family Man. Now a more household name with his success on HBO's Entourage, He seems to have finally made a leap into the mainstream.
Ryan Reynolds has shown that he's versatile enough to leap from films like Van Wilder to the surprisingly good remake of The Amityville Horror and Blade Trinity. While he doesn't shine in this film, he certainly doesn't take away from it, and his role is pivotal. The climax (or anticlimax and some of my colleagues have argued), is his best scene.
The supporting cast is outstanding as well. Jason Bateman plays a cross-dressing lawyer who's simply out of his mind. Delivering unanswered one liner after one liner, he is one of the characters that gets laughs in this dark film. Chris Pine, who plays one of the sadistic German killers, plays a simple role, but has a scene that is really mind-boggling as he simply states the way of the world. Throw in Alicia Keyes for looks (and she acts pretty well too), Common and Andy Garcia and its time to slap a bow on this one.
A word to the squeamish, this was on of the most violent films I've seen in a long time. Carnahan isn't pulling any punches when it comes to death scenes, and while it gives this movie a kind of gritty, raw realism -- some of it just makes you want to close your eyes.
I'm going to go against my column name here. ONE HARSH CRITIC can only hate and berate so many films a year, and this won't be one of them. Carnahan never seems to fail, and with this all-star cast of old Hollywood pros, this is one film that I'll actually recommend. Go see it, and if you don't like it -- well that's ok, too.
Josh Gloer, Movie Correspondent
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