Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

There doesn’t seem to be much of a market for good old crime dramas at the American cineplex anymore.  Looking at the top grossers for 2006, in the top twenty you’ll find Martin Scorcese’s ‘The Departed’ in at number 12 as the lone crime film in the group, and in the top fifty, the only other crime oriented drama you’ll see is Spike Lee’s ‘Inside Man’. Both of those films, aside from having top line directors and casts to die for were phenomenal movies in their own right.  It appears that now the public has its main interest in animated talking animals, inane romantic comedies and pirate movies.  And anything Will Smith is in.  So I’m sure it’s with sweaty palms that Universal Pictures releases director Joe Carnahan’s crime drama ‘Smokin’ Aces’, and I’ll tell you, if I hadn’t gotten in for free, I still would have gladly dropped down my 8.50 to check this one out. But I like crime movies though and ain’t to fond of pirates, so go figure.

A fast moving, slickly shot ensemble piece, ‘Smokin’ Aces’ starts with FBI agents Messner (Ryan Reynolds) and Carruthers (Ray Liotta) staking out dying mob boss Primo Sparazza (Joseph Ruskin).  They get the info that the boss wants snitch, and Vegas lounge act Buddy ‘Aces’ Israel (Jeremy Priven) rubbed out and has laid out a bounty of a cool million.  Messner and Carruthers both realize that a million dollars will bring just about everybody with a gun out of the woodwork, and at that it does with hired killers from across the land descending on Las Vegas to end the life, and take the heart as required by Sparazza, of the coke infested, prostitute addicted human disaster Buddy Israel.

Whatever ‘Smokin’ Aces’ may be, boring sure isn’t one of them.  Carnahan keeps the camera in constant motion, managing to infuse action in scenes as simple as two characters yakking during a stake out.  The actual story behind ‘Smokin’ Aces’ is fairly straight forward, as we have a bunch of folks are trying to kill Buddy, and another bunch trying to get to Buddy before he can be killed, but because there are so many characters flying in and out, and so many different situations happening, the actual narrative can become unnecessarily confusing at times.  However, should you watch this film and find yourself becoming confused, I now formally give you permission to ignore all the story elements and simply enjoy the over-the-top action sequences and the wall-to-wall violence.  The story actually becomes fairly lame as the movie approaches the end with the pre-requisite twist that, at best, is underwhelming and ultimately just gets in the way.

No sir, what Joe Carnahan has created isn’t high art, though it was crafted with a high level skill level.  ‘Smokin’ Aces’ is about as far removed from Carnahan’s first film, the gritty, stark urban cop tale ‘Narc’ as you can possibly get.  Here he has created, unashamedly, the ultimate ‘guy movie’.    Was it truly necessary for Alicia Keys, playing assassin Georgia Sykes to dress up like a hooker, stick a gun in her tight hot pants, cup her breast while attempting to fix her brassier with a gun scope zoomed in them?  Probably not.  Is it realistic for an FBI agent and a hired assassin to shoot each other in an elevator fifty or so times in the chest…. and live?  Probably not.  Would an assassin (Taraji P. Henson) use a gun that could conceivably kill an elephant for the sole reason to draw away attention from her partner?  No, I don’t think so, but it does looks cooler to see FBI agents getting literally blasted across the room after getting hit with one of those mini missiles, I must say.

If you want to argue with me and say ‘Chris, the movie is way unnecessarily violent!’ I can’t defend that.  If you want to argue ‘Chris, if the FBI was this freaking stupid, we’d all be living under the flag of Al-Kaida.’  I can’t defend that.  If you want to start picking holes in the paper thin plot, point out obvious inconsistencies in the already weak story, and whine that 90% percent of the women in the movie were prostitutes, what I’m going to say?  But if you asked me if I had a good time at the show while watching ‘Smokin’ Aces’, and I told you anything other than ‘Hell Yes’, then I’d be lying to you.  Aside from the feeble attempt at some kind of morality play at the end, which pretty much betrays the entire tone that was set for the film, ‘Smokin’ Aces’ was a violent, misogynistic, nihilistic roller coaster ride that was a lot of fun while it lasted.  Fun with misogony.  Yay!

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