I’ve just watched Smokin’ Aces for the first time. What. A. Mess.
Having read and heard comparisons with Tarantino films like Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, I had anticipated a violent, highly entertaining romp. The violence part I get, no problem. Smokin’ Aces is certainly a bloody film, but come on, ”Tarantino”? You’ve got to be kidding me.
I barely got through this film. At the half-way mark, I wanted it to end so badly I paused it to grab the DVD case and check …he runtime. ‘Curses,’ said I, upon realizing I had an hour to go. I wanted this movie to die. I wanted the characters to die – all of them, and as soon as possible. The only cool part was most of them did, which is why you see that 1.0 rating up there. One tormented viewer’s wish granted is definitely worth a point in my book.
Here’s the story, if you can call it that. Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven, Entourage), has pissed off a lot of people, many of them violent criminals. He’s a popular Vegas entertainer, card shark and illusionist, plus some sort of Mafioso, and we learn right quick that there’s a seven-figure bounty on his head. The reasons? For one, Buddy’s giving it up to the feds, with an immunity and protection deal in the works. For the others, you’ll have to watch the movie.
Anyway, with a million bucks up for grabs, a whole bunch of professional killers are homing in on Buddy, who’s holed up on the top floor of a hotel in Lake Tahoe. The F.B.I. knows about the contract, so they’re also coming for Mr. Israel, but to take him into protective custody. Oh, and there’s a bail bondsman and his team in the mix, too, hired by some lawyer.
So it’s a big ol’ race to either kill the guy, arrest him or save his ass. With so many players it’s a fairly complex game, and since they’re all packing some major heat, it’s definitely high stakes.
On paper, I can see the potential for a big, crazy movie with wild shootouts and breakneck pacing. And that’s true here to a certain extent, but in this case it’s just not a winning formula.
The film’s problems are numerous, but the biggest is weak characterization. I can’t recall ever seeing a film with an ensemble cast and not caring about even one of the characters – at least, not before Smokin’ Aces. It’s not the actors’ fault, as there’s certainly some decent talent at work, but the characters are all a bunch of weird caricatures who don’t develop into anything more.
Then there’s the plot. It’s loosely defined, and gets messier as the film progresses. With this type of film, viewers expect a nice twist at the end, and they’ll get it here, but I bet it won’t pay off for them. The ending was my final disappointment, as I was hoping for Buddy’s skills to come into play. The whole film, he’s just moping in his room, spouting off about illusions and loyalty and freaking out over the F.B.I. deal. It doesn’t matter at all that he’s this big-time illusionist, because he never does anything with it, and neither does the movie. Talk about superficial characterization.
So Smokin’ Aces is big mess and a waste of time. How’s the DVD?
Smokin’ Aces is presented on one disc, in 2.35:1 widescreen format. A terrible film gets a nice transfer here, with sharp picture, natural colors and no noticeable problems. Within this mess of a movie are sporadic moments of visual interest, like a stylish shot of Ben Affleck blowing smoke rings in a darkened bar, so I suppose it’s a good thing the picture is high quality.
Menus are animated and scored.
English audio is Dolby Digital 5.1. The mix is really bad for much of the film, with the soundtrack and effects nearly overpowering the dialogue. It only adds insult to injury that I strained to hear characters I didn’t care about discussing things I cared for even less. Maybe the producers were hoping the pounding, crashing and explosive track would distract viewers from the film’s many weak points.
Audio is also only offered in English, while subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.
Smokin’ Aces offers up a whack of bonus material, but is it enough to satisfy fans, should such mythical creatures exist? Here’s the rundown:
- Alternate Ending: last time I checked, an alternate ending changed the outcome. This one just tweaks on the same ending, which is disappointing. Still, it presents an interesting question the filmmaker’s obviously asked.
- Deleted Scenes/Outtakes: hey, funny outtakes! Like a Do-Do sighting, this is a rare occurrence likely resulting from the confluence of many disparate factors, like the moon’s cycle in relation to the colour of socks I wore last Tuesday. The deleted scenes, however, are neither remarkable nor entertaining. Probably ‘cause I didn’t wear socks yesterday.
- Shoot ‘Em Up: Stunts and Effects: cool, the actors trained for the film’s gun-crazy action. Here’s five minutes on that, with some stuff about squibs (exploding blood packets).
- Audio Commentary with director Joe Carnahan and editor Robert Frazen: the pair informs us off the top that they’re drinking beer while the watch. Maybe that would have helped my own enjoyment of the film. Too late now, but at least it makes for a relaxed, amusing commentary, and they still offer up plenty of insight on the production. Not bad at all.
- Audio Commentary with director Joe Carnahan and actors Common, Christopher Holley and Zach Cumer: by far the lesser of these tracks, this one leads me to guess that none of the main cast wanted to do a commentary. I wonder if they realized the film was crap?
- The Line-Up: short bits on some of the characters, with the actors discussing their roles.
- The Big Gun: meet Joe Carnahan, director extraordinaire. Though I’ll always respect him for the gritty cop joint Narc, I can’t help but cringe as he preens about the garbage that is Smokin’ Aces.
Smokin’ Aces is ultra-violent, messy and just plain weak. If that’s your bag, you’ll be happy to find a solid DVD available – most likely – in the bargain bin at a retailer near you.
Special Features List
- Two audio commentaries
- Alternate ending
- Deleted scenes
- Stunts and Effects, featurette
- The Line-Up, featurette
- The Big Gun, featurette