Movie Review: Smokin’ Aces

A graphically violent but at times pseudo-comical action movie, “Smokin’ Aces” could be a combination of “Snatch” and “The Pink Panther Strikes Back.” The plot revolves around Buddy “Aces” Israel (played by Jeremy Piven), a prominent Las Vegas performer with troublesome connections to the Mafia. His decision to snitch to the police causes havoc with the mob bosses, who place a $1 million bounty on his life. The movie follows the interlaced stories of Aces, the F.B.I., and the plethora of assassins seeking the $1 million reward. The film employs a Quentin Tarantino-esque, blasé approach to explicit violence. However, it fails to do so with sufficient finesse, resulting in a clunkier, vague, heavy-handed product than the edgy trailers suggested. The movie begins with a stakeout outside the house of mob king Primo Sparazza. F.B.I. agents overhear Primo and his gang discussing the reward for Aces’ death, along with the existence of a mysterious “Swede,” coming over from Europe. With the F.B.I. trying desperately to save Aces, who is comfortably ensconced in a lavish penthouse, from the seven hit men trying to kill him, the movie ensures a vigorous storyline and a disastrous finale. The action and mayhem ensure the worth of the R-rating, but other than the violence, the film seems to be lacking. The different groups of hit men embody broadly painted Hollywood clichés: a gang of neo-Nazis, a seductive pair of young women, three conniving drunkards, an Eastern European torturer and a desperate lunatic, all driven to recklessness by the reward. Each faction has their fair share of cool gadgets and devious plans, and the inter-assassin competition evolves into a kind of blood-drenched equivalent to “Rat Race.” Each party has its distinct homicidal style. With the use of everything from snipers, explosives, chainsaws, to nun-chucks, Director Joe Carnahan does a good job of being at once visually appalling and amazing. Slit-throat competition and bloodthirsty vindictiveness dominate the atmosphere, and the film climaxes with a gunshot-ridden cacophony of destruction that overwhelms the senses. However, the limited time, combined with the large number of protagonists, compromises character development. The hit men blur together as the camera switches from one indistinct narrative to another. The only person who firmly solidifies by the end of the film is Aces, who is steadily revealed as an insecure, complex, wannabe-gangster. The script leaves everyone else unfinished, including the story’s only moral character, F.B.I. agent Messner. By the end, he becomes the center of the film but remains a very vague, washed personality. The development of this character would have contrasted with the rest of the movie’s characters and provided some more depth to the movie. Instead, an excess of thematic elements and subplots complicate the already superficial movie. Unexpected romance and brotherhoods emerge minutes before the end to pile on top of the chaos already surrounding the plot. This underdevelopment bars Smokin’ Aces from the upper echelons of hyper- violence film genres. It falls short of the standard set by “Kill Bill,” “Fight Club,” “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” and “The Departed,” but it is nonetheless an entertaining film worth the price of admission. It sports some spectacular, if grizzly, action sequences, good special effects and a plot that may not be credible, but does a good job of suspending disbelief. The film concludes with a clever twist, and although the overall tone of the movie seems to vary from lighthearted to somber at the director’s whim, it closes with a great ending scene that shows more depth than the rest of the film. If one has the stamina and free time required for 108 minutes of blood and bullets, then Smokin’ Aces is the film to see.