Trying in so Many Ways
There is one word which sums up "Smokin' Aces" quite perfectly and that is trying. It is both trying to a snappy, darkly funny action movie in a Tarantino meets Guy Ritchie style but because it doesn't quite manage it, it ends up just being trying. And with it trying to be a bit like Tarantino you expect a clever and amusing twist but you guessed it, it doesn't manage to and ends up just being trying. I suppose for those who find Tarantino movies a bit self indulgent this almost light version may entertain but for me it was just trying to be something and never quite getting there.
Vegas magician Buddy "Aces" Israel (Jeremy Piven - Two for the Money) is a wanted man, the FBI want him because he is ready to turn evidence on Mob boss Primo Sparazza (Joseph Ruskin), whilst Sparazza wants him and has put out a huge contract on his head. FBI Agents Messner (Ryan Reynolds - Just Friends) and Carruthers (Ray Liotta - John Q) have been sent to pick him up from the hotel he is hiding out in but also on the way are a variety of hit men and bounty hunters all wanting to claim the money. With everyone arriving at the hotel at the same time it becomes a melee of gunfire as they each discover that they have competition when it comes to getting Buddy.
"Smokin' Aces" is basically a convergence movie, in the first part we learn all about Buddy Israel and how thanks to his knowledge of Sparazza could bring him down. As such not only do we have the FBI wanting to get their hands on him but we also have a range of hit men all after the $1,000,000 price put on his head. And so as you would expect all these people who are after Buddy end up converging as they all head to the Vegas hotel where he is hiding out and unsurprisingly with them all converging at the same time there is plenty of action.
But the thing is that whilst "Smokin' Aces" has the template right what it actually does isn't quite right. There are far too many people all wanting to get to Buddy from Bounty Hunters to assassins and some of these people end up being killed off very early. And because there are so many people most of them are incredibly flat, we have the crazy hill billy Tremor brothers who are ultra violent but that is all they are, and then there is Soot a master of disguise who tries to get in by pretending to be someone else. It's all very imaginative and bordering on the comically crazy but because there are so many characters it becomes a melee of craziness and nothing more.
Of course this sort of movie is also meant to be darkly funny and to be honest in amongst the craziness there is some clever humour. Watching Soot trying various methods to change the tone of his voice is funny especially when he ends up killing someone else and mimics them because their voice is easier. And the Tremor brothers are the wildest bunch of killers you will ever see and amusing with it. But then a lot of the dark humour doesn't come off and it is down to there being too many characters and too much going on to let the humour hit home.
But the most disappointing thing is the pay off, we've met the characters we've watched the almost comedy of errors as they kill each other, or often not, but then the outcome is lacking. These sorts of movies demand a clever, ironic twist to make you laugh at everything which has happened but what gets delivered just doesn't work. It could have worked if "Smokin' Aces" wasn't so crowded with characters but as it is it was a let down.
What this really means is that "Smokin' Aces" is style over substance, with extreme characters, extreme weapons and a lot of violence delivered in a snappy way. And to be honest if all you want is darkly funny action where people fight in extreme ways with various weapons including chainsaws you will probably enjoy "Smokin' Aces" a lot.
And the casting will probably please those who just want style over substance because there are a lot of stars and plenty of recognizable faces. Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta do a nice job as the two FBI agents with Andy Garcia doing just as nice a job as their superior. Alicia Keys is both sexy and tough as one of the assassins and Chris Pine is amusing psychotic as one of the Tremor brothers. And I could go on because even in the smallest of parts you have fun performances such as Jason Bateman as a cross dressing lawyer and Matthew Fox as a security guard. But so much talent including Jeremy Piven as Buddy Israel is wasted because there is too much going on and not enough time given to establishing all the characters.
What this all boils down to is that "Smokin' Aces" is entertaining but never as good as it could be. It is basically trying to be something similar to a Tarantino movie but not quite pulling it off and so at times just ends up as being trying when it disappoints.