A double-decker, monster-man sandwich of a movie with all the condiments dripping off and the tomatoes soaking through the bread, Joe Carnahan
's Smokin' Aces grabs you by your lipstick-smudged collar and chucks you headfirst into a car-crash dizziness of crime, punishment, and bureau hobgob.
As with most directors, Carnahan is eager to put the giddiness of his debut, Blood, Guts, Bullets & Octane, on top of the professionalism of 2002's brooding Narc, only too happy to throw in a who's-who of dynamite character actors to add flavor. Flipping scene-to-scene with a racecar driver's patience, Smokin' Aces quickly engages the viewer but just as quickly stuffs the plot with enough peripheral storylines to garner an Advil intermission. Carnahan, however, seems only the merrier to turn the mayhem up to eleven. Article continues below
Here's the scoop: Buddy "Aces" Israel (Jeremy Piven
) has turned states evidence and has been marked to be deposited in an unmarked grave, heart removed and in the hand of the invalid Don of the Las Vegas mafia. Quicker than you can say Vincent Vega, a plethora of gun-totting, knife-brandishing assassins are descending on the Lake Tahoe hotel where Israel has commandeered the penthouse suite and filled it with enough blow and prostitutes to garner a Motley Crue reunion gig. There's a sexually-ambivalent pair of Jackie Brown's (scene-stealers Alicia Keys
and Taraji P. Henson
), a trio of Nazi-punk, south-bred Mad Max's (led by dirtied-up pretty-boy Chris Pine
), a relentless torture artist (Nestor Carbonell
), and a superbly vicious Ethan Hunt-type mask-wearer named Lazlo Soot (Tommy Flanagan
). Oh, and not to mention a bail bondsman and two ex-cops (Ben Affleck
, Peter Berg
, and Martin Henderson
) hired by a Herpes-positive lawyer (Jason Bateman
Israel's right-hand man Sir Ivy (hip-hop ingénue Common
in a solid acting debut) has suspicions on Buddy's loyalty as the bureau chief (Andy Garcia
, his cheeks tight enough to brandish a diamond ring from a lump of coal) deliberates on whether Buddy is essential to the FBI's case or not. To fast-track the proceedings, two FBI agents are sent to pick Israel up, played with welcome integrity by Ray Liotta
and Ryan Reynolds
. This is all confounded by a paint-by-numbers mystery about the Las Vegas Don's origins and his hand in an FBI agent's death.
Not for nothing, Carnahan's big mess has a stunningly concise tone to it, not trashy enough to be campy and not serious enough to be harshly considered. There's no denying, however, that Smokin' Aces is a backpedal from the grimy cop paranoia of its predecessor. Ultimately, many of the characters are superfluous to the kinetic frenzy of the film and come off as cameos (Bateman, Affleck, and a surprise Matthew Fox head the list). This also lends itself to a problem of absurdly curt storylines that seem to mass into a rubber-band ball of narratives. That being said, it's still a kick to watch Carnahan go all in, pulling out some primo action scenes including a climactic shoot-out that ends with an assassin taking a chainsaw up the keister. The effect sprays about as much bodily fluid to the ironically-named Nomad hotel as one could imagine from a Tarantino
disciple with time and money on his hands.