Smokin’ Aces

Not since Fight Club has a movie been so misrepresented by its trailers as Smokin’ Aces is by both the commercials and theatrical previews that have been advertising the film.

Sold as a race against time to see who can get their hands on Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven) first – the various hitters lured by the Mob’s $1M bounty on the snitch’s head or the FBI – this film is characterized by its commercials as a violent romp, a black comedy/action thriller with guns, insanity, and a lot of macho posturing. In reality Smokin’ Aces is a meditation on betrayal whose sweat slick, blood stained surface only begins to ask the question what is loyalty. And while it does have some funny moments it is most certainly not a comedy.

Betrayal is never funny and this movie heaps betrayal upon betrayal. The very foundation of the plot is, in fact, betrayal of the most basic kind: denial of responsibility in the face of fact.

Getting beyond the theme, though, Smokin’ Aces is, to a large extent, as advertised. FBI Agents Donald Carruthers (Ray Liotta) and Richard Messner (Ryan Reynolds) have been staking out Mafia don Primo Sparazza (Joseph Ruskin) for nearly three days when the call is made: put out a hit on Buddy Israel. Israel, showman, magician, three-time Entertainer of the Year, has managed over the years to weasel his way in with the wise guys left in Vegas and not content with the shadow has decided he actually wants to live the life. But as we’re told, in an interesting piece of cross-cut exposition, by bailbondsman Jack Dupree (Ben Affleck), Israel is a wanna-be and a fuck up and things go really bad for him really fast.

Turning one faction of Sparazza’s organization against another wasn’t the problem for Israel. No, it was his own criminal ventures that drew the attention of every bored FBI agent and organized crime task force within 300 miles of Vegas. This is why, when we meet him, Israel is holed up in the penthouse of a hotel on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe waiting for Morris Mecklen (Curtis Armstrong) to call with the final word on his immunity deal – who he’ll have to snitch on, who he’ll have to give up, and what he’ll get in return.

Myriad elements, including the Tremor brothers (three walking pieces of tattooed, Aryan-nation berserker insanity), Sharice and Georgia (Alicia Keys (yes, that Alicia Keys)) (two slick sisters developing a rep in the hitman game), Lazlo Soot (Tommy Flanagan) (a master of disguise as ruthless as he is clever), and Pasquale Acosta (Nestor Carbonell) (dubbed “the plague” a hitman who when captured by Interpol chewed off his own finger prints), come together all with a coked out, paranoid, over-whored Israel at the center.

Despite having all the pieces, writer/director Joe Carnahan (Narc) never manages to make the sum worth more than the parts. He just can’t seem to get up any momentum even with a cast of many, many recognizable faces (including Andy Garcia in a role not far from the one he played in Ocean’s Eleven, Matthew Fox (virtually unrecognizable under a ghastly proto-mullet wig), Brian Bloom, Peter Berg, and Jason Bateman (who proves yet again just how underrated he has been as an actor for all these years)).

Even though it doesn’t quite deliver what it promised Smokin’ Aces is a bizarre little film that just might make you think. 3 popcorns out of 5.

3 popcorns out of 5

Smokin Aces poster
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