25 January 2007

Smokin' Aces Review

There is something in the American adult male psyche that has an adolescent craving to see violent acts on film. I’m sure it’s the influence of video games and music videos that warps our normally genteel sensibilities into a near Klingon blood lust. I’ll channel Freud later and ask him why this need exists and furthermore why Smokin’ Aces satisfied the longing so completely.

The trailers portray a straight forward plot line of a mob informant who has a million dollar contract out on his head. Groups of colorful assassins then head out in a It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World dash to whack the mark. The mark is none other than Vegas magician Buddy “Aces” Israel. A freaked out Buddy is biding his time in a Reno hotel suite until the Feds finalize an immunity deal that will spirit him to safety.

Since we’ve entered Doug Henning’s world of illusion through Buddy, nothing is as it seems. The plot takes a number of twists along the way that make all of the previously mentioned gratuitous violence an integral character. Yes, the film is violent. But we are dipping into a world of bad men and women trying to kill someone. The overall feel of the first half of the film is light and almost cartoonish in it’s portrayal of these acts. Much in the same way The Big Hit , a few years back did.

Structurally, one might think that the divergent back stories and ensemble cast would make a confusing mess of any film. It might if you don’t pay just the slightest bit of attention. The script does throw a huge number of characters at you, but doesn’t over or under develop any of them. It’s almost like a miniskirt; long enough to cover everything, but short enough to be interesting.

Each character has very clearly defined motives that are generally shown by implication. The clever script leaves one with strong enough clues to work out what’s going on in the character’s heads without bashing yours in. In that respect the hit person duo of Alicia Keys and Taraji P. Henson steal the show. At the end, one is feeling sorry for the 50 cal sniper toting Henson in spite of her brutal profession.

The remainder of the cast gives almost equally as strong a performance. Jeremy Piven (as Buddy Israel) is plays a very believable despicably likable pseudo-mob figure. (Could I have strung any more adjectives together in that sentence?) The FBI triangle of Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta, and Andy Garcia are equally as believable in their motivations. Rapper Common even hits it out of the park as Buddy’s chief lieutenant.

Along the way the minor characters turn out to be the most memorable. The trailer park Karate Kid and Jason Bateman top that list. The unexplained characterizations of these two really make you wish they get more screen time in some DVD director’s cut. If I'm lucky Santa will have one under the tree for me next Christmas.

Smokin’ Aces made me laugh, it made me cry, and it became a part of me… I dug everything about it. I would have felt good paying full price and buying $30 worth of snacks. Not since Rumble in the Bronx have I walked out of a film saying, "That kicked ass!", over and over again…


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