Smokin’ Aces (2007)
Review by Baldy
SMOKIN’ ACES. . . or, “The Great White Whale of Snitches”
Dale – MTV has put together a documentary about the life of Dale Earnhardt, Sr. Okay, not a bad idea. I’ll wait for the video.
Hot Fuzz – Shaun of the Dead becomes a kickass police officer? Okay. It also has Bill Nighy and Timothy Dalton? Yeah, I’ll have to watch this one on the big screen.
The Number 23 – Jim Carrey gets involved in numerology and follows the road to paranoia. Reminds me of Eco’s book Foucault’s Pendulum, if you’re into that sort of thing. Looks like a creepy thriller. This is one that I’ll want to see on the big screen, but wind up seeing on video.
Dead Silence – Wan and Whanell, creators of Saw, have come up with a new thing. The ghost of a mute ventriloquist is animating her (recently dug up) dolls and ripping out the tongues of the unwary. Cool. Dollar movie flick.
The Lookout – Looks like Memento meets The Score. Rental.
Grindhouse – Rodriguez and Tarantino, coming at you with a kickass double feature: Planet Terror and Death Proof! Danny Trajo reprises his fantastic role from Spy Kids in this lovely period piece that has Rose McGowan, Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn, Tom Savini, Q, Michael Parks, Kurt Russell, Eli Roth, Sheri Moon and Nicolas Cage as Fu Manchu. This is a must-see for the big screen, preferably at a cinema and drafthouse.
I saw the preview for this movie once, and thought, “Oh, yeah!” I looked at the cast, the style presented in the preview, and thought it was going to be fantastic. I wasn’t wrong, but my perceptions were a little bit off. From the preview, I had thought that this would be one of those action-comedies of the sort that Guy Ritchie enjoys so much. While it does have some funny moments, the feel of the movie is very different. This is a rapid-cut, extremely fast-paced action movie that offers as much violence as any three other action movies.
The story: Buddy “Aces” Israel is a Las Vegas entertainer who has a lot of ties to the Mob. He’s been designated as the star witness against the Mob, and the Justice Department’s entire case rests on his testimoney. He’s now holed up in a penthouse hotel room in Reno, trying to work an immunity deal. A one million dollar contract has been put out on him, with one weird stipulation: his heart must be brought to boss Primo Sparazza. Out of the woodwork come all of the killers who want a big score. There are the two young, black women who just completed a big Triad hit in Hong Kong. There is The Swede, a mystery man who was originally given the contract. There is a bail bondsman with a couple of ex-cops. There is Pasquale Acosta – the Plague – who is known for stopping at nothing to get what he wants. There are the Tremor Brothers – described as “speed freak Neo-Nazi assholes” who like bullets, blades, chainsaws, etc. There is Lazlo Soot, master of disguise and one bad mofo. Lastly, there are Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta as the FBI guys who are trying to keep Israel alive long enough to testify.
After the movie, my buddy Chris was wondering what else director Joe Carnahan had done. There are a few things, but the main credit for him in my book was Narc. I bought that film without having seen it. Once I saw what Carnahan had done with Ray Liotta and Jason Patric, I was impressed. His style in this film is vastly different, though. He keeps the pace up by almost constantly cutting from one crew to another, juggling between Israel, the FBI, and the groups of hitmen. Rather than this making the movie too busy, this made it more gripping. It didn’t slow down. There were no parts that didn’t keep my attention. It didn’t feel hurried, or mashed together, or unplanned. This movie was one of the few instances in which the constant, rapid cuts worked.
The acting in the movie was largely benign. There were no terrible actors. A few actors did set themselves apart from the rest, though, and managed to log some excellent performances. Jeremy Piven as Buddy Israel was good. He was believable. I believed his excess, his depravity, that he was as much of an asshole as the director wanted me to believe he is. Piven’s usual frenetic energy and rapid-fire dialogue fitted in well with the character. We also got to see the weak side of the character, the gambler who was betting everything and hoping that nobody would call his bluff. If the goal of filmmaking is suspension of disbelief, it worked. I was also impressed by Ryan Reynolds. I loved him in Van Wilder and thought, “this guy could have a great career as a comedic actor.” In Blade: Trinity, I thought, “Okay, he wanted to try something different.” No problem. In this movie, though, he has really moved out of his mold and done something different. Was he channeling Olivier? No. What he did do was present a believable performance as a junior fed who goes through a lot of shit in a single day. Not Oscar worthy, but not exactly Brion James, either. Between doing his job, avenging a friend, managing the situation and his final act of the film, I was impressed by Reynolds’ progress.
The action was intense. We see characters abruptly gunned down – characters that one would logically think are in the movie for the duration. We see the effects of a .50 caliber sniper rifle on the human body (repeatedly), when fired from only 400 yards away. Man sitting on a running chainsaw, two-man shootout in an elevator, hyperactive ten year old karate enthusiasts without their Ritalin. . . this movie is packed.
Another draw for the film is the smaller performances. I really like Peter Berg, and he was in it for a little while. Jason Bateman as a crooked lawyer was freaking priceless . . . unless you have an aversion to seeing Teen Wolf 2 with cold sores, lounging around in ladies’ lingerie. Alicia Keys as one of the hitters put in a good performance, at least good enough that I didn’t realize she wasn’t normally an actress. Common put in a decent show as one of Israel’s lackeys. Matthew Fox has a brief stint as the inept security guy. Andy Garcia does a pretty good job as the Deputy Director of the FBI, but it was too much like his performance in several other movies to really set it apart. Tommy Flanagan as Lazlo Soot was excellent. And then, of course, there was Wayne Newton. ‘Nuff said.
All in all, it was an excellent movie. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but that only meant that my mood didn’t match the film. If you have an action fan in the house, or someone with ADD, or someone who just loves movies with tons of stars getting their guts shot out, this should be seen on the big screen. For anyone else who likes action, or good writing, or good directing, make sure to rent it. On my personal scale, I would give it about eight out of ten.
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