Smokin' Aces

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Buddy ‘Aces’ Israel (Piven), a Vegas magician with Mob connections, has decided to turn informant. While awaiting safe transportation in a glitzy hotel, a gaggle of assassins descend upon him, intent on collecting the price on his head.


Remember in the mid-’90s when every other film had an overly elaborate gangster heist, epileptic editing, blood fetishism and characters named after things you might find lying around in your shed? So does Joe Carnahan. His first feature since 2002’s terrific Narc is a little bit early Tarantino and a lot Guy Ritchie. Carnahan has enough of his own flourishes and imaginative touches to pep up the moribund crimedy genre, but his silly symphony of wisecracks, bloodpacks and criminal morons doesn’t quite add up to a winning hand.

There’s a lot of concentration required in the early stages, as Carnahan introduces his multifarious ne’er-do-wells and gets heavy on the exposition, explaining everyone’s reasons for wanting a piece of ‘Aces’ Israel. Well done if you manage to make sense of more than 60 per cent of them. Troublesome plot gubbins dealt with, he then allows himself to loosen up a little, evolving his film into a sort of It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World with inexhaustible weaponry.

The journey towards the seemingly inevitable mass gunfight is a blast, as Carnahan allows each of his killers to demonstrate their bloodlust and batshit craziness. Three unhinged brothers turn another group into Swiss cheese; another starts bumping off Aces’ buddies and stealing their faces; R&B singer Alicia Keys demonstrates more star power than 90 per cent of musicians-turned-actors as a cold killer in hooker’s clothing; Jason Bateman steals the entire film cameoing as a festering drunk. It’s scattershot comedy that hits far more often than it misses.

Sadly Carnahan starts to lose his thread as he splits the groups up and attempts to inject some drama and importance (Reynolds and Liotta, as the FBI agents assigned to protect Aces, are acting in a far more sombre film). It quickly becomes apparent that the giant showdown isn’t coming, and the most we’re going to get is a smattering of mini-shoot-outs that are curiously light on blood and coherence, a terrible betrayal of the film’s mood. Instead we get an ending that clutches at some deeper meaning that the story has done nothing to earn. After the rampant high-stakes silliness of the middle act, it’s a very disappointing reveal.

Full respect to Carnahan for making the tired crime genre feel fresh, but it would have been more fun without a last-minute attempt to make it mean something.