Smokin' Aces

Writer/director Joe Carnahan takes a note from Quentin Tarantino and Tony Scott in Smokin' Aces, a gleefully violent, nihilistic, sexist romp. Carnahan isn't trying to say anything, he just wants to make a slammin' guy flick with lots of shooting and explosions. To this effect, the plot is secondary; all that matters is this elaborate situation he sets up where an army of bounty hunters all descend upon Lake Tahoe to try to get the bounty on Buddy "Aces" Israel (Jeremy Piven, Keeping Up with the Steins, Cars). The action moves quickly enough that Smokin' Aces seems enjoyable during the viewing, but afterwards people realize how empty is actually is.

Smokin' Aces, sadly, is also predictable. Carnahan (Narc) has his own little twist up his sleeve, but for some strange reason, gives most of it away in a few flashbacks that reveal too much. There is little time for character development of any sort. What he does do is a quick montage at the beginning bringing everybody up to speed with Israel's situation, with the different groups of bounty hunters preparing for the job. Israel is one of Las Vegas' most popular acts, and also works for the mob. He is working on a deal with FBI Agent Stanley Locke (Andy Garcia, The Lost City, Ocean's Twelve) on a deal where he will turn informant on Primo Sparazza (Joseph Ruskin, The Scorpion King, Star Trek: Insurrection), one of the top men in the mob.

FBI Agents Donald Carruthers (Ray Liotta, Take the Lead, The Last Shot) and Richard Messner (Ryan Reynolds, Just Friends, Waiting...) are tasked with going to Lake Tahoe, where Israel is holed up in the penthouse of a hotel, and bringing him. Locke fails to tell him that they are walking into a war zone, with groups of bounty hunters all going there at the same time. This motley group includes skinheads, a South American (Nestor Carbonell, The Lost City, The Laramie Project), a master of disguise (Tommy Flanagan, When a Stranger Calls, Sin City), and Georgia Sykes (Alicia Keys) and Sharice Watters (Taraji P. Henson, Something New, Four Brothers), a female duo.

Carnahan does do a good job moving things quickly. There are many stories going on at once, and Carnahan switches back and forth between all of them, giving a sense of fluidity that sometimes masks the fact that not much is happening. The violence level is high, with far too many Mexican standoffs. There is also the feeling that Carnahan put a lot of tough language and banter in for dialogue, but it seems too forced. He is creating this huge situation for the purposes of it being in a movie, and it doesn't feel very organic. Piven does do an interesting job of playing a wasted performer, with most other actors fading into the background. Interestingly enough, the best performances come from the music world. Keys is sultry as the way-too-cool hitwoman, and Common (Dave Chapelle's Block Party, Fade to Black), who plays Israel's right-hand man.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 48 minutes, Rated R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some nudity, and drug use.

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