From Joe Carnahan, the director who brought us the gritty and stylistic film Narc, comes his second effort Smokin’ Aces, a crazy adrenaline-pumping film about an eclectic mix of hitmen doing their best to collect the one million dollar price tag placed on the head of mob informant, Buddy Israel, played by Jeremy Piven.
The film is filled with big named stars and celebrities including Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven, rising star Ryan Reynolds and feature film newcomer, singer Alicia Keys. The great thing about this movie is that it does not place any of these big named actors on untouchable pedestals as several are killed off reasonably early in the film. Of course, by doing this, Carnahan breaks any expectations the audience might have about who lives and who dies, which is always exciting.
Basically Smokin’ Aces is an over-the-top, crazy, violent, bloody, dirty, loud, non-stop action-packed film. And I loved it. There’s no messing around with lengthy setups or incredible character development. The film jumps right into the story with FBI agents played by Liotta and Reynolds finding out that a hit has been placed on Vegas entertainer turned mobster turned FBI informer Buddy Israel. Israel has fled to a Lake Tahoe penthouse suite, which is “under construction,” while his deal with the FBI is worked out. Meanwhile a collection of seven hitmen from around the world have all arrived with the same mission, to kill Buddy Israel, cut out his heart and collect the one million dollar prize. Of course, the FBI needs to keep him alive since he is crucial to their mob case, which gives Liotta and Reynolds their goal, to get to Israel before the hitmen do. Oh, and Israel’s parole officer, played by Affleck, is on the hunt as well along with his two colleagues. Pretty simple right?
While some directors might make a mess with so many characters and action, Carnahan’s filmmaking skill makes the movie surprisingly coherent. Also, despite extreme scenes of violence, Carnahan never goes Saw on us, showing just enough to whet the violence/gore lover’s appetite without making the audience run for the exits. Whenever chainsaws, 50mm high-powered rifles, Taxi Driveresque retractable sleeve weapons or heart-removing tools are used, the possibility of violence does exist.
The story, while following a very simple context, does still have some twists and turns, which aren’t entirely unpredictable, but are fun nonetheless. The main twist also leads to a great ending scene with Ryan Reynolds, who proves once again he is leading man material.
I was looking forward to Smokin' Aces for quite a long time after seeing Narc and Carnahan’s BMW film, which is definitely the best of the bunch (partially because it stars Don Cheadle). Definitely the year’s best so far, Carnahan has made violent gore clever again.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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