Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Is Smokin Aces as awesome as I bragged it would be in my box office report?

I really wanted to report that Smokin' Aces is the brutal, bloody, nihilistic steel-toed cinematic boot to the junk that we've been needing. I really wanted to. That first preview for it KILLED. It looked like this was gonna be the most badass melee since Godzilla fought Ali at the Rumble in Tokyo. But the trailer went and did something... it lied.

Smokin Aces is not the movie I thought it was going to be. It feels rather unfair to view the movie on those terms, but fact is, I'm going by what I was initially expecting, and the end result was something much different. Not better, or worse, just not what was expected. Smokin Aces becomes a strange hybrid, mixing the cynical all flash style associated with a film like Snatch or The Big Hit, but also combining a tad more serious minded affairs of something akin to The Usual Suspects. Tonally speaking not storywise. My problem with director Joe Carnahan's approach, while certainly novel, is that the movie wants to have it's cake and eat it too. It desperately wants to be the rumble, but it has a tiny bit more on it's mind. What that could be, though, I didn't pick up on.

It seems to be the story of several assassins all out to kill Buddy "Aces" Isreal (Jeremy Piven), a kind of junior mafioso crossed with Doug Henning (If you don't catch the reference, google the man). He's about to turn evidence, and the mob doesn't like this, ordering a cool million dollars to whoever kills him and brings the mob boss Aces' heart. The catch is, all the assassins must descend upon Isreal, who is holed up in a penthouse in Reno before "The Swede" arrives in town. I point this out because the gentleman who plays The Swede is the tall blond Nordic leader from The 13th Warrior, and he stomps groin hardcore in that movie, so anytime I get to see him in something, I must draw attention to it.

Thing is, the movie seems to go along this path for quite a bit, and looks like it will ramp up and deliver what that amazing trailer promised. It comes up to a big violent showcase where assassins, security, and the FBI begin something that would have been a John Woo teenage wet dream, and that's where that part ends. A different gear kind of kicks in, and the movie becomes a bit more convoluted, and needs to remind you that it gave you this information earlier, and that you should have been paying attention instead of just hoping for a "Get your gun off" movie. Thing is, when it does this, the movie takes on a different tone. Gone is the breezy, if slightly ridiclous and hyper-stylized tone, replaced by something else. (Although, there is a flash of the original tone involving Martin Henderson's character, which is appreciated).

What kept me hooked are the performances. There are far too many actors in this film, and everyone, to their credit, does a damn fine job. Besides previously mentioning the Nordic man, Piven, and Henderson, I'm going to champion Jason Bateman (who practically steals the movie from EVERYONE with his brilliance as a sleazy lawyer) Common (as Jeremy Piven's main security guy, he pulls off something smooth. I want to see him in more movies), and the guys who play the Tremor Brothers. You see, the Tremor Brothers are almost what's wrong with this film, and what's so right about it, as they are quite over the top. The guys who play them are fantastic, and I would have preferred to see a movie that featured them solely as the villains. They're fascinating, but the film doesn't spend enough time with, and the time it does spend doesn't really match the reputation that proceeds them.

I must point out again, that Smokin Aces is not a bad film. It looks good, has great performances, and a decent soundtrack. The more I contemplate it, the more I appreciate what it actually is. But do not be fooled. It is not non-stop action, pulse pounding, or any other hyperbole laden review you will be likely to find. It's an above average post-Tarantino crime film, or even a pretty solid Elmore Leonard novel. It has moments of genuine wit, and it rarely bores. It's just not the movie that you think it would be.

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