Smokiní Aces
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Joe Carnahan
with Jeremy Piven, Ryan Reynolds, Andy Garcia, Ray Liotta, Alicia Keys, Taraji P Henson, Ben Affleck, Martin Henderson, Peter Berg, Jason Bateman, Joel Edgerton, Matthew Fox
release UK 12.Jan.07,
US 26.Jan.07
06/US Universal 1h49

The bounty hunters: Berg, Affleck and Henderson

piven reynolds garcia

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Smokin' Aces Edgy and full of life, this outrageously complicated gangster thriller keeps us thoroughly entertained simply by making us work to follow along. It also has a terrific sense of style and wit, plus solid performances all around.

Virtually everyone is after Buddy "Aces" Isreal (Piven), a Vegas magician turned wannabe mafia boss. But as he revels in his Tahoe hotel suite, complete with hookers and drugs, everyone's closing in: the Feds (Reynolds, Garcia and Liotta), some bounty hunters (Affleck, Henderson and Berg), two hitwomen (Keys and Henson), and various assassins and thugs. And as they converge, the resulting conflagration will leave everyone wondering what's really going on here. And who's double-crossing whom.

Carnahan writes and directs in a slick, fast-cutting, hip style reminiscent of early Guy Ritchie or Danny Boyle. The film crackles with energy from the start, piling on so much information and so many characters in the opening minutes that we can barely keep it straight. Fortunately, Carnahan also starts killing off his characters quite quickly, giving us a chance to catch up by the time they all reach Lake Tahoe. Although we know there'll be several "unexpected" twists.

The cast is excellent, from a sturdy central role for Reynolds, as the FBI agent who must piece the strands together, to the superb Piven, as the hugely overwrought eye of the storm, even if his acting is also somewhat overwrought. Standouts in the solid ensemble include Henson's lovelorn sniper and Bateman's hilariously deranged bail bondsman. But everyone gets a chance to shine amid the general chaos, even as things get inconceivably grisly.

There's so much going on in this film that it's easy to ignore the fact that it's actually a rather empty-headed, meaningless romp. Some of the plot strands have surprising moments of emotional resonance, but only for a brief moment before the carnage starts up again. And the extremely vicious violence feels pretty indulgent, especially when three Mad Max nutters show up and the film escalates into a series of bloodbath showdowns to tie up every loose thread. But Carnahan invests so much attitude into the film that we can't help but enjoy the ride.

cert 18 themes, very strong violence, language 13.Dec.06

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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall