Smokin’ Aces


Ben Affleck as Jack Dupree
Andy Garcia as Stanley Locke
Alicia Keys as Georgia Sykes
Ray Liotta as Donald Carruthers
Jeremy Piven as Buddy ‘Aces’ Israel
Ryan Reynolds as Richard Messner
Peter Berg as “Pistol” Pete Deeks
Taraji Henson as Sharice Watters
Chris Pine as Darwin Tremor
Martin Henderson as Hollis Elmore
Jason Bateman as Rip Reed
Common as Sir Ivy
Matthew Fox as Bill

Directed by: Joe Carnahan

Las Vegas entertainment guru Buddy ‘Aces’ Israel has almost finalized a deal with the FBI to rat out mob boss Primo Sparazza. However, before a deal can be reached, a contract is put out for Israel. Six teams of “hit men” race after Israel with the hopes of collecting the one million dollar bounty. The FBI must do all that they can to ensure Israel’s safety. Chaos ensues.

“Smokin’ Aces” marks writer and director Joe Carnahan’s follow up to the critically acclaimed film “Narc.” While the tones of the two movies are very different, Carnahan does not fall into a sophomore slump with his latest feature. Carnahan successfully develops characters despite little screen time and without sacrificing pacing and content. More importantly, Carnahan’s characters are unique and fun to watch. While the “kill the snitch” premise is hardly earth shattering, Carnahan’s “Smokin’ Aces” excels with a multitude of crazy, “Tarantino” type characters that work with the help of a great cast and a well done story.

As far as the cast goes, you do not have to look any further than Jeremy Piven to find greatness. He is the star and focal point of the film and does not disappoint. Piven is constantly entertaining as the card loving magician turned mob boss turned snitch Buddy Israel. Piven owns every scene that he is in from start to finish. Even when the man is not saying a word, his presence is felt through his coke induced body language. In a movie where you can’t really root for any one, Piven allows you to pity his pathetic character from the start. Piven plays the part so well that I actually felt Carnahan let him high and let the camera role.

I really must give major kudos to Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds’ performance can be best described as being pleasantly unexpected. Fans get to see a new side to the star. Reynolds’ usual “smartass” typecast character is nowhere to be found in “Smokin Aces.” Instead, Reynolds plays the young FBI field agent Richard Messner seriously. No catchy one-liners. No whimsical facial expressions. No zany high jinks. Hopefully feedback from this film will encourage Reynolds to take on more serious projects in the near future. While the character itself is nothing short of cliché, Reynolds is able to pull off the role of the smart and young FBI agent with relative ease. It is refreshing to watch Reynolds hold his own with on screen greats Ray Liotta and Andy Garcia. Liotta plays Reynolds’ partner Donald Carruthers who is assigned the task of bringing Israel to safety by FBI head Andy Garcia after a stakeout reveals that a contract will be placed on Israel. What make matters worse for the FBI is that the contract has a clause that the mob wants the hit men to kill Israel by taking out his heart. This sort of brings out some of the most deranged and sadistic hit men and women that have appeared on screen.

As mentioned earlier, Piven and Reynolds rightly get the most screen time while every other character plays a secondary role. This is not to say these characters are not entertaining. Jason Bateman gets only two scenes but is absolutely hilarious as the STD infected, rabbit loving sex pervert lawyer Rip Reed who hires Ben Affleck’s bail bonds character to get Israel back before he is killed off. One of the teams Affleck’s crew must go up against is what I can only describe as the best hit men team to be assembled in the last 15 years. The Tremor Brothers are three violent Neo-Nazi chainsaw wielding psychopaths who will stop at nothing to claim the bounty. For me, the Tremor Brothers are the funniest part of the film. Also, “Lost” star Mathew Fox shows up unexpected as the head of security for the hotel Piven’s character hides out in.

Rounding out the cast are two newcomers that many people should already know of. “Smokin’ Aces” marks the film debut of R&B Grammy winner Alicia Keys and Hip-Hop artist Common. Keys plays “hit woman” Georgia Sykes, who goes disguised as a prostitute in order to get close and hopefully kill Buddy Israel while her “partner” impatiently waits in a neighboring hotel window with a gun that looks and feels like it can take out a jumbo jet. Common plays Sir Ivy, Israel’s number one body guard who is struggling with coming to grips about being associated with a rat for the FBI. Both singers provide performances that are a satisfying blend of drama, action and humor.

If there is one thing to complain about look no further than the handling of the teaser and the trailer. As a warning, I would say to those interested to not go into this movie with any preconceived notions based on what you saw in the previews. You will surely be disappointed. Also, it should be said that this movie is not for everyone. This is not your typical date movie nor would I expect it to appease “Entourage” fans who have grown accustomed to Piven’s non violent character on the show.

The Bottom Line:
It is rather hard to give “Smokin’ Aces” a genre, as it is the perfect blend of action, comedy, drama and violence. Comparisons could be made to “Pulp Fiction”, “Snatch” and/or “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” but I feel that is inaccurate. While the movie does not allow you to be immersed in the “Smokin’ Aces” world, Joe Carnahan and the cast succeed in taking you along for a fun and entertaining ride. If you are a fan of the film and would like to know more about the characters, check out the exclusive comic chapter that showcases Buddy Israel.