Hazardous to Your Health

Don't get burned by the mock-Tarantino 'Smokin' Aces'

Smokin' Aces has the look and feel of a movie trying to spoof the kinetic action films of Ritchie, Tarantino, Scorsese, etc. Everything about it--the action, the performances, the hairpieces--is ridiculously over-the-top to the degree that it seems director Joe Carnahan couldn't possibly want the viewer to take it seriously. Sad thing is, he does.

Oh, not seriously like Gandhi seriously, but his film isn't a straight comedy or Scary Movie-type skewering of action pictures, yet it feels like one. This screwed-up mess is looking to be the next Snatch or Pulp Fiction. It will probably result in the temporary cessation of all Tarantino rip-offs. I mean, one could hope, right?

As is protocol for this type of film, there are many characters, and as it would follow, many plot threads. The film's title actually names one of the main characters, Buddy "Aces" Israel, a Vegas entertainer with mob ties in some major trouble with the law. Since it involves the mob, and the law, you can probably guess what Buddy has to do for federal authorities. Hold on, I'll give you a couple of seconds. Tick, tick ... that's right! You guessed it! He has to testify against the mob.

Jeremy Piven plays the slimy Buddy Aces, and he gets to wear a whole lot of hairpieces and show off some of his prowess with a deck of cards. You see, that's Buddy's thing. He shuffles cards a lot and has the ability to throw a card so hard it will shave a chunk of flesh off your face. Now that's a lounge act!

Buddy skips bail and goes to hide out in a Lake Tahoe casino, resulting in a host of authority types and lowlifes chasing his killer card-throwing ass. Among those hot on buddy's trail are a couple of female assassins (Alicia Keys and Taraji P. Henson), a wisecracking bail bondsman (Ben Affleck, just loving himself), a crew of Nazi punks, a bunch of determined feds (Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta among them) and more. Too much more. Due to all of the pursuers, and all of the guns involved, massive gunplay ensues.

Some of the action shots are interesting, but they are mostly headache inducers. Carnahan stages some scenes that go beyond crazy. One particular massacre includes the Feds, casino security guards and the punk Nazis. People get shredded by bullets, burned to death and disemboweled by chainsaws, all in glorious slow motion. This scene, in itself, is a prime example of how a director can just take things too far. Sure, an action film can be excessive, but the director needs to draw the line somewhere. Carnahan stuffs the screen with so much ridiculous action, it's just not worth following.

In the film's final moments, Carnahan reveals that his movie is also a Usual Suspects-type mystery. I'm blown away by the very notion that he and his crew could think the mystery revelation is anything remotely surprising. There are massive hints throughout the flick that indicate the "big twist" to come, so the big secret is nothing but a confirmation of what most viewers will know already. Yawn.

Carnahan comes up with a couple of clever moments, the best of which would be a scene where a group of men are shot to death, with one of the dead men's mouth being manipulated like a puppet by his killer as he delivers a bizarre monologue. Actually, that's about it for truly original moments in this movie. Everything else is nothing but blatant rip-off.

So, we get yet another piece of junk to kick the year off. Smokin' Aces left me longing for the days in the not-too-distant future where we will get to see Eddie Murphy humping himself on screen in Norbit. That's a sad state of film affairs.

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