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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Smokin’ Aces (review)

Losing Hand

You can easily imagine the behind-the-camera “creative” team working itself into a frenzy of excitement over the casting possibilities presented by the overindulgently sprawling list of dramatis personae that appear in the bit of the old ultraviolence that is Smokin’ Aces.

“Ooo, ooo, ooo, we’ll get, like, Ray Liotta for that one Fed, and Andy Garcia for that other Fed, and Ben Affleck — tee hee! — for the bail bondsman and” — now they’re doing pee-pee dances lest they wet themselves in their excitement — “that weaselly guy from Entourage, you know, Whatsisname, to play the weaselly guy that everyone wants to kill!”

See, cuz it’s Fun! It’s a Lark! It’ll be like a Big Winking Joke to everyone who loves kick-ass crime movies!
Except it isn’t. Jeremy Piven (the weaselly guy from Entourage) and Liotta and Garcia and Affleck and Alicia Keys and Jason Bateman and Alex Rocco and every other single damn one of the cast of thousands here should have stepped back away from this steaming pile of meaningless, worthless, civilization-in-decline, orgy-of-violence, bread-and-circuses sign of the apocalypse. Though I guess if the world as we know it is coming to an end and we’re about to head into another Dark Ages of rising sea levels and wars over potable water, never mind an end to on-set catering and contractually obligated personal security, you might as well get what you can while the gettin’ is good.

The gettin’ ain’t good for us, though, on the viewer’s end, even as obscene spectacles of completely gratuitous carnage typically go.

It all starts out as an orgy of exposition as too many characters attempt to explain the situation to us, even though it’s not all that hard to grasp. Everybody wants Vegas stage star Buddy “Aces” Israel (Piven): two different branches of the mob want him dead, and the Feds want him alive because he’s gonna snitch on those two different branches of the mob (which is why they want him dead). So the Feds have him holed up in a Tahoe high-roller’s suite, so he is conveniently cornered when a slew of contract killers start showing up in an attempt to off him for the $1 million bounty put up by the mafia.

But it’s not “cool” or “stylish” to be straightforward, so it gets mixed up, spun around, split-screened, snarked up, and roughed up. It’s not confusing or complicated, it only wants to create an air of confusion and complication, as if by way of hiding how simple it actually is. Better to dizzy the audience “intellectually” — ha — before it brings on the bloodbath and the butchery, because then it might all seem smarter than it is.

Writer/director Joe Carnahan made the genuinely clever and affecting Narc back in 2002, so it’s not like he doesn’t know how to do that. What happened to him between then and now? This is an ugly movie in every sense of the word: It plays like a pastiche of mob movies, except it isn’t funny or deprecating or deconstructive. It starts from a dubious high of merely tasteless jokes about semen and rape and descends to something bordering on the completely depraved: a tender murder scene. It mistakes crassness for attitude, half relying on the hope that we’ll see this all as tongue-in-cheek but then asking us to feel sorry for the sleazy Buddy, an oh-so tragic figure caught in the middle, practically Shakespearean in his self-created calamity (not). It thinks its “who is Keyser Soze” ending is a shocker, thinks that even the mere fact that it has a “who is Keyser Soze” ending is shocking, when in truth the “hints” that it dropped that one was coming land like lead balloons.

“Everyone’s gonna leave the theater grinning,” the Affleck character — and I use the word character, as I used the term dramatis personae, completely ironically — promises. He’s referring to his plan to bring the bail-jumping Buddy Israel back to Vegas from his Tahoe hidey-hole, but really, Carnahan wants us to see that as a promise for his film. If one may consider that a rictus of revulsion tinged with a smidgen of relief that it’s over constitutes “grinning,” then I guess we may consider that an accurate prediction.

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MPAA: rated R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
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  • not really anonymous.

    While the movie in general was, yeah, pretty craptackular and shockingly depressing, … it’s not enough to redeem the movie, but wasn’t the scene towards the end, that your picture is from, when Piven was doing all the card tricks and trying to calm his bodyguard type guy down good?

    I mean, very good. The sort of thing that doesn’t redeem the movie but so deserves a better movie to be in?

    Or was that just me?

  • MaryAnn

    Well, you know, Ray Liotta’s last scene in the elevator was pretty good, too — the way he delivers that last line is pretty amazing. That’s why I said the whole cast should have walked away from this one.

    But no one ever listens to me…

  • Scott

    The melodrama in this article is absolutely astounding. Fine if you didn’t like it, but if it offended you so much maybe you shouldn’t watch movies. Also, using the word “orgy” metaphorically multiple times in the same article makes you sound like a douchebag.

  • lunarangel01

    I agree with your review for the most part. I think about 3/4ths of this movie was bad. That 3/4ths being the parts where the violence was cartoony and cold. There was no purpose and there was no emotion. Then there was the 1/4th that was absolute emotion (Reynold’s and Piven’s characters). It was like there were 2 separate movies going on and the good one needed to be taken out and put somewhere else…

  • wtf?

    This was the most heavy handed, brazenly “postmodern” freight train of barf and bad ideas to ever get derailed and collide with a second train of tired, confused, melodramatic idiots whom I count as the people who enjoyed it. Blleeeeeeeeaaaarrrggghhh. There is way too much money in LA.

  • MaryAnn

    using the word “orgy” metaphorically multiple times in the same article makes you sound like a douchebag.

    And I should take vocabulary advice from someone who actually uses the word “douchebag” as an insult?

  • Big Will

    I agree with Scott to a certain degree. Obviously not the snarky way he worded it. But, to me, this looks like a movie, and this is how I’m going to go into it, as a peice of mindless trash. Like when we went to see SOaP. I honestly look at them in a similar vein. It’s mindless bullshit that looks pretty cool. I think you just went too judgmental on it like they were tryng to make great cinema.

  • MaryAnn

    Anyone who has read more than a couple of my reviews knows I have no trouble appreciating movies as movies. But that does not mean that every movie gets a pass simply because it IS a movie. Why would anyone who approaches movies from so indiscriminating a perspective be reading reviews in the first place?

    Have you seen Smokin’ Aces, Big Will? Because what a movie looks like and what it actually is are very frequently not the same thing at all.

  • Big Will

    Well obviously I’m passing judgment on the trailer. I haven’t gone yet but I’d like to.
    Scott was an asshole, so I don’t know why he is even bothering reading.
    But as I read it, I wondered just how bad could the movie be? It sounds like you thought it was the worst movie in the last decade.

  • max

    Has it ever occured to any of you that maybe, just maybe movies are to be taken as a source of entertainment. as far as im concerned this movie was, yes, quite violent, but at the same time it kept you watching the whole movie. i mean, if conservitive christian who wrote this review hated it so much she could have just left. i honestly thought it was fun and entertaining. who cares if rediculous, thats what made it fun. i will admit, i was dissapointed with the ending.

  • max

    and one more thing… i hope you get paid to write these awful reviews. cause it would be a real laugh if you didn’t.

  • MaryAnn

    Has it ever occured to any of you that maybe, just maybe movies are to be taken as a source of entertainment

    *smacks forehead* Of course! This is what I’ve been doing wrong all these years. I haven’t been seeing films as a source of entertainment!

    Everything is so clear to me now…

    if conservitive christian who wrote this review

    Oh… oh my…

  • muzman

    The real question is; is it worse than Boondock Saints? (as it seems similar in tone and already adored by hardboiled boneheads everywhere)

  • MaryAnn

    You know, I think it might be worse than Boondock Saints, which I also hated with a passion.

  • Kate McCabe

    Hang in there, Mary Ann! Hummm, it just may be that all these bloggers are in highschool….but, I said ‘may be’ so don’t hold me to that. I agree, the phlick was really really bad (I actually only went to see it because my daughter had a bit part, she walked in the background, tall and blonde, and hasn’t seen it yet, and I don’t think she will bother). I suffered through most of it and after she appeared, I shot out of that theater like a rocket, really glad I didn’t eat any popcorn; I probably would have ralphed…So, that all aside, just do your job; we’re all entitled to our opinion, right???

  • randi

    the boondock saints was adored by
    hardboiled boneheads? i am a 19 year old
    girl from the country who absolutely loves
    the boondock saints! No, smokin aces was,
    by far, not the best movie ever made.
    But let me ask you something.
    what kind of movies do you like?
    considering you hated the boondock saints,
    which had action, humor, and drama. Let
    me guess..you’re a fan of chick flicks,
    right? NICE!

  • MaryAnn

    Randi, there are more than 1000 films reviewed here. Why don’t you read more than two of them before you decide that you know what kind of movies I like?

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