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Smokin' Aces
Difficult to see through a big cloud of smoke
Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta Star in "Smokin' Aces".
OPENING WEEKEND: $10,000,000
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $32,000,000
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

September 22nd, 2006: Sleazy Las Vegas magician Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven) is a former member of one of the largest criminal organizations in the country. In exchange for safety provided by the FBI under the Witness Protection Program, he has just agreed to testify against his former employer, mob boss Primo Sparazza (Joseph Ruskin). When the news reaches Sparazza, he immediately offers up $1 million dollars to anyone that will bring him Buddy’s heart. As word spreads quickly, FBI director Stanley Locke (Andy Garcia) sends agents Richard Messner (Ryan Reynolds) and Donald Carruthers (Ray Liotta) to Lake Tahoe to secure the witness. At the same time, Buddy’s lawyers hire bail bondsman Jack Dupree (Ben Affleck) and ex-cops Hollis Elmore (Martin Henderson) and “Pistol” Pete Deeks (Peter Berg) to bring Buddy back to Vegas. With Sparazza’s specialist on the case and a series of shadowy assassins also after him, Buddy has quickly become the most wanted man in the country. His last night out in the Tahoe casinos is about to be rudely interrupted as all the parties converge in one chaotic gathering of people that either want to protect him or eradicate him by any means necessary.

What to Expect: Writer-director Joe Carnahan is a perfect example of a filmmaker whose acclaim exceeds the quality found in the body of his work. I say this in a most complementary way. He’s been hyped up to be the next big action director, all thanks largely to just one film. His penchant for manic, testosterone-crammed thrillers was first on display in the independent feature with the title that says it all, Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane. It was a fast-paced, but ultimately pointless action picture with just enough flair and wizardry in the style department to get the director noticed. With his next project, Narc, Carnahan delivered a cool and gritty urban crime drama that showcased his knack for a visually stimulating experience, but still remained grounded by a bare-bones, character-driven story. It became an instant darling among critics, but was largely overlooked by audiences. Based on those two projects, Carnahan has been propped up as a wunderkind in the industry, although it is my feeling that he has not quite yet delivered on that promise. For the past several years he has entertained several projects, including the recent Mission: Impossible III, which eventually went to J.J. Abrams. Star Tom Cruise was one of the executive producers on Narc and as a big supporter of the film expressed interest in Carnahan directing the latest M:I sequel. Since that never panned out, Carnahan’s only contribution in the last few years has been to join a list of illustrious filmmakers like John Frankenheimer, Ang Lee, and Alejandro González Iñárritu by directing an episode for the series of short BMW films titled The Hire. It’s an interesting group of little experimental movies that exhibits BMW automobiles and excessively, but fittingly places focus on inventive cinematography and unconventional editing. Thanks to youtube.com you can check out Carnahan’s episode, titled “Ticker,” here. It’s not revolutionary filmmaking by any means, but well worth checking out for the best sample of the style and pace you are likely to get in Smokin’ Aces.

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All the notoriety has helped Carnahan assemble an impressive cast of leading Hollywood men for the film. Jeremy Piven (Very Bad Things, Black Hawk Down, Old School) is an ideal choice for the irritating protagonist that drives all of the tumultuous developments around him. Rising star Ryan Reynolds (Van Wilder, Just Friends, Waiting…) has the potential to bring in just enough sanity as the “good guy” cop amidst all the mayhem that all the other characters are likely to create in the picture. An assortment of recognizable actors like Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia, Ray Liotta, Peter Berg, and Jason Bateman will all contribute in smaller roles that range from brief cameos to bit parts. All the machismo will be amplified with characters sporting cool facial hair, elaborate tattoos, or both. Word from early screenings is that all put in great performances, although poor Ben Affleck seems to be receiving the lowest marks. Either the rumors that he is miscast are simply more of the same, sometimes unfair flack that has plagued him since Gigli, or sadly, the bitter truth. On the opposite side of the sex spectrum, R&B singer Alicia Keys will be making her big-screen debut as a treacherous lesbian female assassin. Hustle & Flow’s Taraji Henson will play her partner, both personally and professionally, which should make for a very interesting hit-women duo.

In my opinion this sort of ensemble action-comedy never quite works. In the past, films like this have been far too excessive and convoluted to be truly enjoyable. There is a sense of constant self-awareness or heavy-handedness on the part of the filmmakers that intrudes on the viewing experience. With colorful characters like the diva lesbian assassins, a master of disguise, a torture extremist, and neo-Nazis all roaming about in a film that might be going for a new jump-cut record it becomes difficult to decide where to divert one’s attention. No matter how intelligent a person is, there is only so much information the brain can process and I’m worried that Smokin’ Aces could become an exhausting experience. Indeed, reports from early test screenings suggest that the first 15 minutes are very difficult to follow. Additionally, the multitude of story threads that are started don’t tie up nicely at the end. Actually, I can live with that. While I’m worried that this could become an exercise in stimulation overload, I really don’t mind feeling confused when it benefits unique storytelling. Aside from negative feedback about some of the film’s more labyrinthine moments, the majority of the story appears to be an enjoyable ride.

In Conclusion: As of right now, I would place Carnahan somewhere between the frequently frustrating Tony Scott and the unparalleled Quentin Tarantino. He strives to be Tarantino-like, but has never been near attaining the same sort of genius in his action or dialogue. It is far too early to tell which direction he will move in. I hope that with Smokin’ Aces he will not veer into the Tony Scott, Guy Ritchie school of too many characters and too much stuff, but it kind of looks like it might turn out that way. Still, this is a promising project as a pure form of entertainment. A film in this genre is much better off with someone like Carnahan in charge than in the hands of a total hack. The big Hollywood names should attract audiences into the theaters and hopefully any problems pointed out after early screenings will be fixed or turn out to be bad rumors. For the official film trailer they may have to cut back a little bit from the international teaser so that at least people will know what they are going to see.

Similar Titles: True Romance, Very Bad Things, Suicide Kings, Snatch
January 26th, 2007 (wide)
April 17th, 2007 (DVD)

Universal Pictures

Joe Carnahan

Ryan Reynolds, Jeremy Piven, Andy Garcia, Alicia Keys, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Don Cheadle, Ray Liotta, Martin Henderson, Peter Berg, Taraji P. Henson, Joseph Ruskin, Common, Chris Pine, Nestor Carbonell, Tommy Flanagan

Total: 146 vote(s).

Action & Adventure, Comedy, Drama

Click here to view site

Rated R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use

108 min





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