Directed by Joe Carnahan
Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner
Written by Joe Carnahan
Director of Photograpy Mauro Fiore
Music by Clint Mansell
Cast: Jeremy Piven, Ryan Reynolds, Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia, Ray Liotta, Alicia Keys

2007/109 mins/Color/Dolby Digital 5.1
2.35:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1

Review from the Universal Studios Home Entertainment DVD

I often get non-horror DVDs and I contemplate reviewing them for DVD Crypt. Typically, there is nothing in these movies which even puts them close to being appropriate for SMOKIN' ACES bucks that trend. After witnessing a man chew off his own fingertips, a psychopath apologize to a corpse and then manipulate that corpse to accept the apology and a scene involving mucho chainsaw mayhem, I knew that a DVD Crypt review was not out of the question.

SMOKIN' ACES is a film with a fairly intricate plot and an incredibly complex series of characters. The film focuses on Buddy "Aces" Israel (Jeremy Piven), a Las Vegas showman who is involved with the mafia. Once simply a performer, Israel become close to the Vegas mob and then eventually started organizing crimes on his own. After being arrested, Israel agreed to testify against his mob cohorts. The FBI has placed Buddy in a hotel penthouse in Lake Tahoe while he awaits his plea-bargain to be ironed-out.

As the film opens, FBI agents Richard Messner (Ryan Reynolds) and Donald Carruthers (Ray Liotta) are performing a stake-out at the home of mob boss Primo Sparazza (Joseph Ruskin). They overhear a phone call where Sparazza has placed a $1 million bounty on Israel's head (and he wants the killer to bring back Israel's heart!) Messner and Carruthers turn this information over to FBI administrator Stanley Locke (Andy Garcia), and after being de-briefed, they head for Lake Tahoe, hoping to get to Israel before any assassins learn of his location.

Unfortunately, the news of a $1 million hit travels fast. Bail-bondsman Jack Dupree (Ben Affleck) has been involved in the Israel deal, and he enlists ex-policeman Pete Deeks (Peter Berg) and Hollis Elmore (Martin Henderson) to go with him to retrieve Aces. Femme fatales Georgia Sykes (Alicia Keyes) and Sharice Watters (Taraji P. Henderson) are recruited by Loretta Wyman (Davenia McFadden) to do the job. The Tremor Brothers (Chris Pine, Kevin Durand, and Maury Sterling), are a trio of insane siblings who kill anyone who get in their way. Pasquale Acosta (Nestor Carbonell) is infamous for torturing his victims. And Lazlo Soot (Tommy Flanagan) is a master-of-disguise who no one can identify. All of these people converge on the hotel as Israel wallows in self-pity in the penthouse, and it becomes quite clear that not everyone is going to survive.

First of all, writer/director Joe Carnahan owes Quentin Tarantino a Thank You note or a check or something, as the film's narrative and structure just smacks of Tarantino. If you think that the above synopsis feels leaden, then you are right. The movie actually spends 18 minutes introducing these characters and ideas. The film pauses which each new character and has their name splashed on-screen. The story follows a fairly linear path, but the whole proceeding still has a PULP FICTION feel, especially the editing of the first act. And anyone who's seen TRUE ROMANCE will be reminded of that film during the finale.

Second of all, the film is almost needlessly complicated. It's a good thing that the character names on placed on-screen and that Affleck's character serves as a narrator, because this movie throws an incredible amount of information at the audience. Some may literally need a score-card to maintain focus. And things don't get any less complicated as the film progresses (even as characters die). One can assume that Carnahan throws all of this at us in order to drag the viewer into the story. He's created a complex tale and he wants us to be a part of it. Also, the dearth of information also hides a few twists which will be revealed in the end. Or, that was most likely the intention. One plot twist is revealed about half-way through the film, and one is left to wonder if Carnahan did this on purpose.

All of those things aside, SMOKIN' ACES is at heart an action film and in that realm it succeeds. The story may be convoluted and confusing at times, but there's no doubt that Carnahan is can shoot an action scene. The last 30 minutes of the movie are very intense, not only in the sense of violence, but in suspense as well. I'm not going to give the scene a way, but there's a moment where a character who we don't know that much about, who is played by an actor who usually plays villains, is in a dangerous situation, and there's a great deal of tension in that moment. To me, this scene solidified the fact that Carnahan knew what he is doing.

More importantly, Carnahan doesn't shy away from violence or general bizarreness. Once the battle royale begins in the hotel, most every character is covered in blood. There are chainsaws being wielded and people on fire. But, there are also the aforementioned scene in which a corpse is treated as a puppet and the truly odd moment where a severely injured man is accosted by a hyperactive child. These moments may alienate many viewers, but for me, they help separate the film from the thousands of other action movies out there.

I have to admit that I didn't get very far into Joe Carnahan's last film NARC, as I found it to be too depressing. And, of course, Carnahan was hired to direct MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III, but left that project. So, I didn't have high hopes for this movie. But, I was pleasantly surprised by how well-made it is, and how off-beat most of it was. The story tries too hard, as does the final scene, but otherwise, SMOKIN' ACES is nice alternative to the standard action flick.

SMOKIN' ACES attempts to kill DVD courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been released to DVD in two separate editions, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks good, as it's sharp and clear for the most part. But, this is one of those films which has undergone so much processing that the image is notably grainy at times. Also, the color scheme changes from scene to scene, making some shots questionable. The scenes in Buddy's hotel room are very bright and have a green tint, and they look too bright compared to the dark tone of the rest of the film. In that same sense, the colors are somewhat desaturated in many scenes, which, again, makes the transfer appear to be questionable. Anyway, the image is free from overt video noise or haloes. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This track is unbridled in its presentation of surround and subwoofer effects. The shootouts in the film's finale sound great and my walls were shaking throughout.

The SMOKIN' ACES DVD contains an odd assortment of extras. We start with a pair of AUDIO COMMENTARIES. The first features writer/director Joe Carnahan and editor Robert Frazen. This is a good track as the two drink beer and talk about the movie. They talk at length about the actors, the locations, and the story. They are quick to point out how many of the moments in the film were ad-libbed. And they also comment on the amount of information given to the audience. The second commentary has Carnahan with actors Common, Christopher Holley, and Zach Cumer. This track isn't as good, and Carnahan admits that he's already done a commentary and doesn't know what else to say. Well, he ends up repeating a lot of his previous comments. The DVD has 4 DELETED AND EXTENDED SCENES which run about 10 minutes. Most of those are simply extended scenes, and only one new idea is presented here. "Cowboy Ending" (1 minute) is an alternate ending which has the same outcome but makes more sense. "The Big Gun" (12 minutes) is sort of a making-of featurette which focuses on Carnahan, showing him working on-set. Actually, it plays more like Carnahan's video diary. "Shoot 'Em Up: Stunts & Effects" (5 minutes) has the cast and crew talking about the gun training and squibs used in the film. "The Line Up" contains five brief featurette which focus on the main characters and have comments from the actors. The extras are rounded out by a 10-minute OUTTAKES reel.





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Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2007. ©