Smokin’ Aces (2007)

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Explosive, ferocious, and nihilistic, Smokin’ Aces positions itself as 2007’s movie to beat in the categories of gratuitous violence and egregious overplotting. It’s all about a Vegas lounge singer, Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven), and the flotilla of gangsters, assassins and cops racing to snatch him from his penthouse hideout atop a Lake Tahoe casino resort. The good news is it’s pretty entertaining stuff — a near-constant stream of gunshots, profanity, blood spatter, death scenes, and half-naked prostitutes. The bad news is it’s simply overloaded — instead of developing characters that we can latch onto amid the carnage, writer/director Joe Carnahan concocts a whole bunch of tedious backstory (The old plastic-surgery gambit? Really?) that’s delivered in talking-head exposition sequences that bookend the film’s action-filled midsection. It’s also highly derivative, borrowing a hyperactive narrative style from folks like Danny Boyle and Guy Ritchie but failing to match their wit and/or rambunctiousness. What it most reminded me of is the Quentin Tarantino-scripted True Romance, which mounted a similar multiway cops-and-robbers assault on a hotel suite with more panache, better dialogue, and (this last one is also important) brevity. In Carnahan’s bullet-ridden testosterone fantasia, the aggressive disregard for human life gets tiresome, but at least some of the characters are fun — there’s a lethally dopey skinhead (Chris Pine) and a heartsick lesbian sniper (Taraji P. Henson) — and the ensemble cast (which includes Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia, and musicians Alicia Keys and Common) is generally excellent. C+

A version of this review originally appeared in the White Plains Times.

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