The Austin Chronicle

Smokin' Aces

Rated R, 108 min. Directed by Joe Carnahan. Starring Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Common, Andy Garcia, Alex Rocco, Alicia Keys, Wayne Newton, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven, Ryan Reynolds.

REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Jan. 26, 2007

Follow closely: A cheesy Vegas illusionist turned mafioso (Piven) is marked for death after striking a prosecution deal. Enter the stalwart federal agents (Garcia, Liotta, and Reynolds), the bail bondsmen (Affleck, Ryan Reynolds, and Peter Berg), the hookers, the entourage, the attorneys (Bateman and Curtis Armstrong), and myriad assassins who blow shit up real good. Ignore the limp dramatic bits involving a character’s mysterious backstory, and a person could have a reasonably good time with this Tarantinoid actioner. On the plus side, it’s got sleek European styling, cutesy contrapuntal cuts, and a whole lot of heavily armed people in one location. The actors get to riff – Matthew Fox all but dissolves into the minor role of a geeky security guard – and there’s a certain spirit of fun afoot, but Bateman carries the whole thing away in his two scenes: one with a giant disembodied bunny head and one in ladies’ lingerie. Half the time the movie wants to be balls-out weird, and it is. But the other half – the half with the good guys – is plodding procedural fare. The star attractions are the Tremor Brothers (Chris Pine, Kevin Durand, and Maury Sterling) – Mad Max types who, I’m happy to report, eventually come blazing out of a smoke-filled hotel elevator waving machetes and chain saws; a chandelier takes it, even. It’s a breathtaking set-piece, but there’s not actually much tension in the movie besides that which Carnahan achieves by cutting between his multiple subplots, and if you’re going to put a torturer in your film, someone should actually be tortured. (No, the expository montage at the beginning doesn’t count.) I’m still puzzling over the “foxy” assassins (Keys and Taraji P. Henson of Hustle & Flow), whose frustrated lesbian attraction takes the shape of Henson blasting holes in a hotel with heavy artillery while Keys gets carried off by Common.

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