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"Smokin' Aces"

Directed by Joe Carnahan.
Written by Joe Carnahan.
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Alicia Keys, Jeremy Piven and Andy Garcia.
Release Year:  2007
Review Date:  1/30/07


I saw "Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane" a few years ago, late one night on Skinemax or another cable channel, and thought Damn, this isn't too bad considering this is truly a shoestring budget.  It was directed by Joe Carnahan, who would go on to show he had real talent a few years later with 2002's "Narc", a great crime film with a great performance not only by Ray  Liotta but also by Jason Patric, who never really impresses me but was solid here.  I thought, if this guy can direct Jason Patric, the sky's the fucking limit!

After accepting and then turning down the director's nod for the last "Mission: Impossible" film (a few people turned this job down, strangely), he is finally back with "Smokin' Aces", which was dumped into January and largely lays limp in the corner, not for want of style or gunfire but mostly because it is so strangely average given its wildly eclectic cast.  A lounge magician-turned-gangster, Buddy "Aces" Israel (Jeremy Piven, who ought to consider NOT playing an asshole in his next film), is hangin' at a hotel on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, and when word from the Mob gets out that there's a $1 million price tag on Buddy's head--and heart--all manner of people take off for the location to try and collect on Buddy's imminent demise.  There's feds (Ryan Reynolds, Liotta, Andy Garcia), bail bondsmen (Ben Affleck, Martin Henderson and Peter Berg), hitmen (Nestor Carbonell, Chris Pine, Kevin Durand, Maury Sterling, Tommy Flanagan), hitwomen (Alicia Keys, Taraji Henson) and even Buddy's own bodyguards (including Common) that eventually try to take Buddy down...who's going to be left standing with the prize?

Lots of people get shot in this one before the dust settles; in between deaths, we get a lot of posturing on behalf of our various leads and only occasionally is their dialogue really funny.  Jason Bateman's cameo as a lawyer who hires the bail bondsmen is one of the few truly funny scenes; outside of that, it's mostly adrenaline-fueled style and profanity that guides us from scene to scene.  Sometimes, this works--the film takes off once everyone (conveniently) arrives at the hotel at the same time, and the bullets start to fly--but mostly, it was surprising how often our crowd sat quietly, murmuring amongst themselves, seemingly unenthralled (certainly, THAT can't be a word) by "Smokin' Aces" where you think you are going to be wildly entertained.  It's a fluff piece, plain and simple, with only a few moments worth watching again.

Still, Carnahan has a talent, a flair for...something, and even though I don't know what that something is, it was enough to get many of these cast members to take a small part in a big production.  Here's to hoping that his next film gets us closer to the promise that came after "Narc."

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09