The marketing for Smokin’ Aces paints the flick as a slick, stylish, hip, hyper-violent, shoot ’em up, “hire the hitmen to take out the scumbag mafia rat before he can snitch on us”, movie; an American version of a Guy Ritchie ensemble piece like Snatch with a little Tarantino flair and gore thrown in for good measure. For the most part, the marketing is accurate. You’ll see Jeremy Piven chewing up scenery better than ever before as the burnt-out, coke-snorting, whore-mongering, small-time Vegas stage magician-turned wannabe mafia sleazebag Buddy “Aces ” Israel, who is holed up in a Tahoe penthouse under the FBI’s protection until he can turn state’s evidence against the mob. Piven’s the best in the business when it comes to making degenerate, weaselly characters instantly funny and likeable, and you will almost feel bad for this scumbag as he’s targeted by a host of colorful hitmen.
And oh boy, are these hitmen characters colorful. They also happen to be the best part of the movie, mostly due to the tremendous casting involved. Ben Affleck (yes, I followed the words ‘tremendous casting’ with Affleck’s name) is great as an opportunistic bail bondsman out to nail Buddy with his two ex-cop buddies (Peter Berg and Martin Henderson). I’ve always stated that Affleck is genius in small doses when he has the right role to play (namely, a fast-talking dirtbag with a thick Boston or Jersey accent), and he delivers big time in the small amount of screentime he’s given.
Remember the Dreadnoks from the G.I. Joe comic books and cartoon? They’re represented live and in the flesh here by Chris Pine, Maury Sterling and Kevin Durand as the Tremor Brothers, a trio of psychotic, punk-rocker Mad-Max-style forces of nature that leave a trail of corpses and destruction their wake. Taraji P. Henson and singer/songwriter Alicia Keyes almost steal this entire movie as two female assassins. Keyes is especially impressive, with a sexy, absolutely mesmerizing screen presence and sultry line delivery. When she disguises herself as a prostitute, a pair of fishnet pantythose never looked better. The hitmen are rounded out nicely by Suddenly Susan’s Nestor Carbonell as a smooth but lethal latino andTommy Flanagan (the guy with the scar on his cheeks in Gladiator) as a creepy master of diguise.
The “good guys” in Smokin’ Aces are represented by funnyman Ryan Reynolds and screen veterans Ray Liotta and Andy Garcia as the FBI agents assigned to protect Israel. They do a serviceable job, but you’ll find yourself counting the minutes until you can see something explode or Alicia Keyes in her booty shorts again. Beyond the G-Men and the criminal element characters, there are tons of celebrity cameos and walk-ons from the likes of Curtis “Booger” Armstrong, hip-hop artist Common, Alex Rocco, and in two absolutely hilarious sequences, Jason Bateman as a pervo lawyer with mouth herpes and LOST‘s Matthew Fox in a really bad wig and glasses playing the hotel’s chief of security.
In the end, Smokin’ Aces is a lot like a fifteen year-old kid. They’re both a little awkward and neither of them really knows what they want to be. Fifteen year-old kids can also be manic, loud as hell, unruly, obnoxious, hyperactive, and violent. Again, the same can be said about Smokin’ Aces. In fact, if the individuals responsible for the film focused more on, as Alex from A Clockwork Orange would say, “the old ultra-violence”, I probably would’ve liked it a whole lot more than I did.
Not to say that Smokin’ Aces is a bad movie, it’s actually a lot of fun, but it’s a meal that suffers from too many cooks dropping things in the pot and one very unpalatable ingredient that overwhelms the entire dish. It’s like eating a luscious, sweetly frosted, decadent, super moist piece of cake, then realizing about 3/4ths of the way in that the rest of the slice is made of Limburger cheese and SPAM. You don’t want to eat that last 25% of SPAM and Limburger, and the slice of cake certainly doesn’t need to be composed of those nonsensical and unnecessary ingredients. In the end, it’s just upsetting and you wonder why the chef didn’t simply add more frosting to fill in the last 1/4th.
And that’s exactly the problem with Smokin’ Aces. We get a big heaping helping of SPAM and Limburger cheese dumped into our delicious, gooey, sugary cake in the form of a wholly unnecessary, over-dramatic, (and very predictable) “twist ending” involving the big Mob Boss and an FBI undercover operative that takes up the last fifteen minutes of the movie with other elements to it peppered throughout the film proper. It sticks out like a sore thumb, and all you really wanted was more of the sweet frosting (i,e. the action, psycho characters, humor, and sexy babes in revealing clothes).
7.0 out of 10.