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Smokin' Aces

dir: Joe Carnahan
[img_assist|nid=785|title=A very stupid and pointless movie. But she does look pretty with a gun.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=298]
Some films fill your soul and entire being with joy after you’ve watched them. Others fill you with adrenalin, disgust, dread or relief. Most leave you feeling as much or as little as you did when you walked into the theatre, but at least they distracted you for a while.

A select few movies make you feel so empty inside that you wonder why the fuck you bother anymore.

Smokin’ Aces, which sounds like a cool, hip title aimed at people who think smoking is aces, is stuffed to overflowing with actors with little of importance to do. It has a plot which is meant to be outlandish and anarchic, and whilst it succeeds in being chaotic, it has little more to justify its existence. All these actors aren’t really called upon to do much acting by a schizophrenic script that tries to be equal parts Guy Ritchie (of Lock, Stock and marrying Madonna fame) and Tarantino, and is worse than both. With too many actors and too little for them to do, it doesn’t know where its loyalties lie.

It also insults us with its pointlessness, underlined by an ending no-one could care for. It is mired in a 70s aesthetic that never convinces and never gets beyond looking like a limp parody of a parody.

It’s kind of an action caper concept: a big contract on the life of a washed-up Vegas lounge performer brings out a bunch of professional killers in force who want to get to him first. Buddy Israel (Jeremy Piven) is holed up in the penthouse suite of a lavish hotel in anticipation of entering the witness protection program. His last days before rolling over on his mafia buddies are typified by a shitload of drugs, hookers and guilt. He is not a character we like or get to know at all, so, at best, the prospect of his death fills me with not giving a good goddamn.

Two FBI agents (Ray Liotta and Ryan Reynolds) race to get to him in time. Three bail bondsmen (Ben Affleck and two other shmoes) race to get to him in time. Two lipstick lesbian assassins race to get to him in time. A lunatic Latino assassin who’s chewed off his own fingertips to avoid leaving fingerprints races to get to him in time. Three moron brothers who look like extras from the second Mad Max flick race to get to him in time. Some other guy who’s good at looking like other people by using those latex masks from the Mission: Impossible flicks races to get to him in time.

With all these elements in the mix, you’d think they’d come up with some interesting shit for them to do, or at least, if they can’t think of interesting things for them to do, they could construct some generic action scenes that were entertaining. Smokin’ Aces, or its director, or its producers, or the girl doing the catering manage to do none of the above.

The attempts at having characters do a Tarantino (as if Tarantino invented this), which is to have characters talking about stuff that has nothing to do with the plot in entertaining and amusing ways (a lá Royale with Cheese or foot massages, or semi-obscure cop shows from the 70s) utterly fails here. The closest they get is a rant from one of the African-American female assassins, ranting against the tacit acceptance of prostitution. It’s neither funny nor particularly illuminating.

The melange of intentions and aspirations never really cohere in anything approaching a decent manner, and, as an audience member, I really couldn’t find any level upon which to appreciate the flick. There’s no character to relate to or get behind, there’s no one’s antics who stick out as particularly funny or surprising, there’s a twist in the plot which is telegraphed in the first 10 minutes and doesn’t really make sense at the end, which undercuts the dramatic direction they try to take in the closing minutes.

The action isn’t handled in a decent way, with the possible exception of an insane scene involving someone killing a hallway full of FBI agents with a high-powered sniper rifle. It’s not a great scene action-wise, it’s just that it is a piece of visual insanity that neither adds nor detracts from the rest of the movie. Few other moments use a recognisable style to highlight what’s going on or to tell us anything about characters that are really less than caricatures. They’re undimensional at best. That’s it, I’m copyrighting that word. Undimensional. Use it at your next dinner party only if you give me credit.

What’s most disappointing about all of this is that director Joe Carnahan managed to make one of the best cop dramas in recent times, being Narc, with Jason Patric and Ray Liotta. Narc managed to be everything, absolutely everything that Smokin’ Aces doesn’t come close to being: visually arresting, dramatically engaging and stylishly visceral.

Smokin’ Aces is a profound step backwards in a way showing that either Carnahan’s hands were tied by a studio reluctant to give him too much freedom, or that the paycheck from a deft piece of hackwork proved too beguiling for him. There seems to be whole slabs of the movie missing, you know, the bits that would have been interesting, but by all that is holy I’m not asking for a director’s cut. At just over 100 minutes the film is way too long by about an hour.

The tonal missteps are also particularly galling, with much of the humour falling flat right from the start, which then has the plot shift into what I think was drama. I’m not sure if I can call it drama, though. Although you can’t really single out any of the actors and blame them for the incoherency of the plot, Ryan Reynolds becomes, by default, someone whose dramatic decisions are supposed to bring closure to the endeavour. I still don’t understand what they were trying to go for. I understand the ‘twist’ of it, but not the why of it, especially the ‘why’ pertaining to: “why are we supposed to care?”

And why were all these guys crying? I don’t mind men showing their emotions when it’s relevant, but what’s with all the waterworks?

Trying to rip-off Guy Ritchie, a pretty unoriginal hack himself, and transforming it into a Vegas caper film with no caper and no smarts sounds good when you’re drunk, but I do wish that the people involved had forgotten about it when they sobered up, instead of insisting that it get made.

Smokin’ Aces is neither smokin’ nor is it aces.

2 ways in which this flick is the most forgettable film of 2007 thus far out of 10

“You went from Beyonce to Bigfoot in less than 6 fucking hours!” – Smokin’ Aces.