Mob movies are constantly trying to bring something new and stylish to the table. What started out with “The Godfather” has transmogrified into cheesy, stereotypical fare like the Usher bomb “In the Mix.” The sophomore film from director Joe Carnahan, “Smokin’ Aces” tries to be stylish and unique but ends up getting bogged down to its impressive cast and constant twists and turns.
Magician Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven) has holed himself up in a penthouse in Lake Tahoe waiting to testify against a powerful Mob boss. Israel is set to live the good life in the Witness Protection Program if it weren’t for the large bounty on his head that brings a legion of bounty hunters and hitmen out of the woodwork ready to collect. The hitmen all congregate on one hotel all in a race to be the first to take out Israel while at the same time, two FBI agents set out to prevent Israel from being murdered and solve the mystery as to why this small time magician is so important.
What made “Smokin’ Aces” enjoyable and watchable? The locations where the film was made, Lake Tahoe California is nothing short of breathtaking. A lot of the scenes in the movie where Israel is looking out his penthouse window show amazing views of the lake including the surrounding scenery as a castmember. The filming techniques employed by Carnahan are also great; the fast moving camera moments make you feel as if you’re moving just as fast along with the characters.
Sadly, this amazing premise gets bogged down with way too many underutilized characters that end up only being there to have their names on the poster. Characters that would have had great story arcs like Ben Affleck’s bail bondsmen character or Jason Bateman’s STD-riddled attorney are only there for two major scenes and then abandoned and that’s where the main problem with “Smokin’ Aces” is, that they included too many characters. The characters with interesting stories are dumped in favor of characters with very little story. Sadly, the main character of the movie Buddy Israel is set up to be a great character but is only in the film for about twenty minutes, the whole catalyst of this film is underutilized. The ending also has a twist that is entirely unbelievable, even suspension of disbelief wouldn’t work in this twist.
The acting is what ends up making “Smokin’ Aces” tolerable. Jeremy Piven is amazing with what little screentime he has as Buddy Israel along with Ryan Reynolds going against type as FBI agent Richard Messner. Sadly both of these two amazing actors have very little to do. Ben Affleck also makes a great turn as a bail bondsman who disappears about twenty minutes into the film. The Nazi Tremor brothers also could have been great but were vastly underused. Alicia Keyes has a truly memorable role in her debut to the screen as Georgia Sykes, a hitmen masquerading as a prostitute to get close to Israel. Look for more great acting from her.
Sadly, this film has way too many characters and way too much jammed in to be enjoyable and with a twist at the end that will irritate you for days, “Smokin’ Aces” could have been amazing but sadly suffers from too much of a good thing.