2 1/2 Stars
‘Smokin’ Aces’ is a frantic and curiously nihilist picture directed with verve and confidence by Joe Carnahan. Mob boss Buddy ‘Aces’ Israel has turned informant and is currently set up in a penthouse high above Lake Tahoe, N.V. Unbeknownst to him a rival has put out a million dollar contract for his heart, leading to various (racially divided) assassins descending on one Tahoe hotel. Carnahan is credited as sole screenwriter and his script is a tight, lean if thinly sketched story that goes off the tracks completely in the closing moments. Owing more than a little to the works of Trantino and Tony Scott, this interlocking narrative structure has been done so many times before that it doesn’t resonate and at times comes off as nothing more than an exercise in style.
Typically stunt casting hinders a film but in this case the familiar faces help in differentiating people, when the names and locations begin flying bye. Strong work by Ryan Reyonalds and particularly Ray Liotta help anchor the story in a grounded reality, counterbalancing the shenanigans of the hoodlum hit-men. Ben Affleck shows up all to briefly sporting a 1970’s ‘porn’ mustache and a thick Chicago accent. Also look for an unknown Chris Pine (Star Trek) as the almost unrecognizable leader of an inbred group of killers. Yet special mention must be given to Jermey Piven who is outstanding as the Vegas illusionist turned Mob Leader and now Federal Witness. His final scenes of self destruction rival Tony Montana’s.
For nearly its entire running time ‘Smoking Aces’ is superior entertainment. Then we arrive at an unnecessary epilogue that goes on and on, doubling back on things we thought to be true and all together ruining the film in the process. I’m not sure if Carnahan thought that since he had payed homage to ‘True Romance’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’ he should throw some ‘Usual Suspects’ in as well. Whatever the case may be, it’s a startlingly bad ending to what up to that point had been a good, fun ride. Too bad the filmmakers didn’t stop while they were ahead.
Director: Joe Carnahan
Stars: Jeremy Piven, Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta
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