The Story: There’s a contract out on Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven), a seedy entertainer who has decided to turn state’s evidence against the Vegas mob. This attracts the attention of an eclectic mix of bounty hunters, and the FBI quickly responds by dispensing two agents (Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta) for safekeeping. A wild showdown in Tahoe ensues soon thereafter.
The Good: Ryan Reynolds turns in another strong performance, showcasing more of a serious side than what he’s known for. Rising above everyone else in the large ensemble, he carries every scene he appears in. Ray Liotta and Ben Affleck also do good jobs with what they’re given, the only other notables among the cast besides Matthew Fox’s fun cameo. The shootout sequences are pretty well done and the movie features some good editing, including a number of cool transitions. I was also surprised by the ending and the fact that it was able to make a point out of the nonsensical chaos preceding it.
The Bad: The film tries to duplicate Guy Ritchie’s early work, failing miserably on nearly all accounts. In terms of likeable or appealing characters, there are none (outside of Reynolds and Liotta). The others characters are all wholly despicable and uninteresting, destroying any sense of empathy or concern over their fates. The acting follows suit, excelling in inconsistency and a lack of depth. Andy Garcia seems to be doing a bad Andy Garcia impersonation, complete with a horrible accent, rather than creating a character. Alicia Keys and Taraji Henson never connect with the audience and are given way too much screen time. Even the great Jeremy Piven cannot rise above the constraints of his unsympathetic character, leaving the audience without any reason to invest in whether he lives or dies. The storyline is convoluted, and several times it’s hard to figure out what’s going on. The movie also tries to be funny, a Guy Ritchie staple, but never succeeds. It doesn’t help that what it considers to be humor is either too dark or just plain weird that it never actually is (aka the psycho kid).
The Verdict: I loved Joe Carnahan’s previous film, Narc, and was anxiously looking forward to his next movie, which unfortunately kept getting stalled due to an extended run of bad luck (see M:i:III). Unfortunately, Smokin’ Aces isn’t worth the wait. The movie is largely a disappointment, with major faults in both the execution but especially the characters. In the end, Joe Carnahan is way too talented of a filmmaker to turn out something as sub par as this.