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Review

‘Smokin’ Aces’ leaves a number of questions

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February 2, 2007

You may have noticed lately that the action genre has been undergoing a minor overhaul. “Smokin’ Aces” illustrates how these flicks are starting to be a little rougher, a little meaner and tend to go that extra mile to show the viewer an explosively good time. “Domino,” “Crank” and “Running Scared” belong to this new school of more hardcore action flicks, and although the newly released “Smokin’ Aces” doesn’t quite graduate magna cum laude, it’s definitely on the dean’s list as far as movies like this are concerned.

Our story is a simple one: Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven), a washed-up drug fiend/Vegas magician, is getting set to testify against all of his mob-based connections. It’s not long before the mafia gets wind of this and offers a $1 million bounty on Israel — and brings back his heart on a plate. A rogue’s gallery of assassins, hired killers and various forms of criminal ilk hear word of the prize and proceed to quickly converge upon Israel’s penthouse hideaway in Lake Tahoe, with guns blazing and chainsaws roaring.

Two FBI agents (Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta) are bent on protecting Israel at all costs, but with a cadre of killers determined to, as one character eloquently puts it, “pour boxes of bullets” into ol’ Aces, they’ll need everything they’ve got to keep their star witness alive and kicking.

As much as I appreciate films with complex characters and intricate storylines, once in a while I just like to turn my brain off and let the good times roll. “Smokin’ Aces” provides just that experience, a veritable ballet of bullets that’ll have no problem in quenching the thirst of action fans. Still, I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t quite the frenetic actioner that the trailers made it out to be. What “Smokin’ Aces” does is try to incorporate a smidge more depth and story than a lot of action films are willing to tackle, which ends up working both for and against the flick in the end.
Writer/director Joe Carnahan keeps things interesting just in terms of a variety of characters (from masters of torture to dudes with “Mission: Impossible”-style masks), and he does a good job matching this motley crew with a series of hard-hitting action sequences that oughta make Steven Seagal wet the bed.

The trouble with “Smokin’ Aces” is that Carnahan tends to space out the action almost too much. The gunfights and such are cool, but they’re also surprisingly few and far between. The filler consists of some repetitive dialogue, wasted character development and a mixed bag of acting. Jeremy Piven stands out the most in this ensemble cast, giving a solid performance as the coked-up Israel, and in her leading debut, Alicia Keys does a pretty nice job as a slinky hit-woman. Just about everyone else gets little screen time to really shine. Ben Affleck doesn’t have much to do as a bondsman hired to bring in Israel, two of the less-prominent assassins are a couple of yawners and a dementedly awesome, psychotic trio of siblings called the Tremor Brothers definitely got the shaft in terms of screen exposure.

Despite a handful of buzz-kill moments, “Smokin’ Aces” still musters up enough energy and action to spice up the multiplex in these early, barren moviegoing months of 2007.

A.J. Hakari is a student at UW-River Falls.