top of page
  • Writer's picturePopEntertainment

Smokin’ Aces (A Movie Review)


Starring Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven, Ryan Reynolds, Peter Berg, Martin Henderson, Alicia Keys, Common, Nestor Carbonell, Jason Bateman, Chris Pine, Taraji Henson, Tommy Flanagan, Curtis Armstrong, Alex Rocco and Wayne Newton.

Screenplay by Joe Carnahan.

Directed by Joe Carnahan.

Distributed by Universal Pictures. 109 minutes. Rated R.

I guess we have to thank (or blame) Quentin Tarantino for movies like Smokin’ Aces, even over a decade after he jumpstarted the nouveau noir genre with Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and True Romance. While the Tarantino-wannabes have mercifully slowed to a trickle in recent years, every once in a while, a film-geek disciple will pop up with a movie full of colorfully amoral criminals played by surprisingly big name stars, shooting each other with gay abandon.

Smokin' Aces is one of these cartoonish noir slaughter fests. The plot all revolves around Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven), a cheesy Vegas magician and entertainer who fancies himself a gangster. Aces is holed up in a Lake Tahoe penthouse where he partakes of insane amounts of drugs and prostitutes while his agent – yes, his agent – tries to negotiate immunity and witness protection with the Feds in return for testifying the case of an elderly don who was once a good friend.

Aces is being hunted by the FBI (Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta), bounty hunters (Ben Affleck, Peter Berg, and Martin Henderson), cohorts (Common) and several teams of debauched hit people (including singer Alicia Keys, Taraji Henson, Nestor Carbonell, Chris Pine, and Tommy Flanagan).

All of these slimy characters cross and double cross each other across the Nevada desert, eventually all touching down in a Tahoe casino where all of them set out to slay Aces, though most of them end up killing each other in spectacular bursts of violence.

No one – criminals or lawmen alike – gives even a moment’s thought or hesitation to all of the potential innocent bystanders who could be killed by the thousands and thousands of rounds of gun fire – not to mention the chainsaws, hypodermic needles, and explosives. And I’ve never seen so many hidden shivs in my life. You can almost understand the law falling for it the first time, but eventually you have to wonder how these killers are able to get away with the same damned move over and over and again.

The moment I really recognized how totally I was not buying into this movie’s crazed world view and forced eccentricity – in fact that it rather repulsed me – was a scene where a mortally wounded bounty hunter crawls up to a local farmhouse. Inside he is nursed to health by a cheerful older woman and tormented by her grandson – a twelve-ish nerd with huge coke bottle glasses who talks in fake ghetto-speak and threatens the man while he is in a bathtub with a series of just barely pulled karate blows, all the while sporting a huge boner in his pajamas. That isn’t merely quirky, that’s seriously creepy. I felt like I needed a shower just because I had watched it.

Not that any of the other characters were in any way likable, they were all just varying degrees of disgusting.

The final big reveal – where top Fed Andy Garcia lays it all out for agent Reynolds in great detail – is trying desperately to be the movie’s big Keyser Söze moment. Instead, it is tortured and convoluted – a desperate attempt to justify all the mayhem that has proceeded. It makes little sense and even less difference to much of what has happened. In the end it makes it seem all of this was a huge misunderstanding, giving Smokin’ Aces a weird vibe like the most violent episode of Three’s Company ever.

Your final reaction to Smokin’ Aces will all be a matter of taste. If you’re into stylized gonzo violence, then you’ll be in heaven here. I know there are a lot of people in that category, and I’d never begrudge them their fun. To me, it was just a bunch of style over substance, and I really couldn’t give a shit if any of the characters lived or died. (1/07)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2007 All rights reserved. Posted: April 17, 2007.

bottom of page