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Frat Pack Tribute Movie Review: Smokin' Aces

Review by Mario Bernengo

Let me say this right off the bat: there is never a dull moment in Smokin’ Aces. It is entertaining at all times, and I found myself laughing hysterically at the antics from some of the best scene stealers in the business. The film gets off to a great start and continues to build up momentum throughout the second act, but towards the end it becomes increasingly clear that the director has brought the plot to a dead end. Still, even though it falls apart completely in the final sequence, the overriding sensation is “better than expected.”

Because I expected to get one thing and one thing only out of this gory killing frenzy about a mob-connected Vegas showman, Buddy “Aces” Israel, a key witness that’s about to hand over what remains of the Cosa Nostra in the US on a silver plate to the FBI, setting off a host of hitmen to come after Aces and, well, smoke him. I expected Jeremy Piven and Jason Bateman to compete for stealing the movie. And they sure did, but ended up getting some great unexpected contenders for that challenge, actually, which provided some added value to my theater ticket.

Clearly it’s Piven, as Israel, who has the screen time and the intense, dramatic moments going for him, but I put my money on Bateman, who has no more than a cameo as a wussy showbiz/mob attorney in this who’s who of tough guys. Piven delivers some Ari-ish one-liners, he cries, screams and does non-stop card tricks (really, enough with the card tricks already, he doesn’t open his mouth without flipping a deck), and while it’s a good part for Piven, it’s not a turn I see launching good old Chee-eeese into A-list stardom. He really ought to keep exploring the comedic side to his staggering intensity, instead of trying to gain recognition as a “serious” actor. He should take after Bateman, who is every bit the actor Piven is, but is content just to afford a little comic relief and comes out on top. Bateman arguably gets the film’s biggest laughs in the most low-key of scenes, carried entirely by his hilarious improve skills which allow him to walk away with the Frat Pack friend challenge.

The rest is either getting complex plot points across or non-stop action from a cast of characters that keeps getting freakier as the story progresses. Eventually it’s all so out there that it’s completely detached from what passes as a recognizable reality. And somewhere in-between a trio of randomly neo-Nazi and seriously challenged hitmen, and a funny-as-shit eleven-year-old trailer park kid who, strung out on Ritalin and with one too many viewings of Karate Kid under his white belt, pops up like a Jack-in-the-Box and almost ends up snitching the movie from out of nowhere, writer and director Joe Carnahan loses the emotional and dramatic momentum built up by a very good trio of Feds (Andy Garcia, Ray Liotta and – who knew? – Ryan “Van Wilder” Reynolds). Because when a kid with ADD who has nothing to do with the story becomes my focal point of interest in a plot-driven action flick that's about to climax, it’s a sign that something’s not right. Gotta love that kid, though.

And so, the overall great performances even from the music department (Alicia Keys and Common are very fetching together), as well as the hysterical Chris Pine, cannot save the plot. By the way, fans of Ben Affleck needn’t worry, he’s not nearly as bad as early reviews made him out to be… only he has his most memorable scene once he’s dead. I only have one thing to say about it: it escalated quickly. I mean it really got out of hand fast. They killed a couple of hundred guys. There may even have been a trident in there somewhere. I know there was a chainsaw, and someone was definitely stabbed. But they didn’t keep their heads on a swivel, which is what you have to have to do when you find yourself in a vicious cock fight.

**

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