April 17, 2007
Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie have pretty much cornered the market on the ultraviolent, pop culture-laden crime film. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell filmmaker Joe Carnahan who follows up Narc (2002), his ode to gritty police procedurals of the 1970s, with Smokin’ Aces (2007), a crazed, hyperactive action film for the Playstation generation.
With the Mafia’s influence dissolving by the year, mob boss Primo Sparazza represents one of the last holdouts in Las Vegas. This may soon change if Vegas entertainer Buddy “Aces” Israel (Piven) rats him out. Naturally, this results in a million dollar price tag being placed on his head for anyone crazy enough to collect, including two contract killer sisters (Keys and Henson), a blood money mercenary, the Tremor brothers (three neo-Nazis who look like rejects from The Road Warrior), and a master-of-disguise hitman. Throw in three bounty hunters (Affleck, Berg, Henderson) collecting on a bail bond from a shyster lawyer (Bateman), a rival faction within the mob and the FBI (Liotta and Reynolds) and you’ve got a helluva lot of people interested in Buddy’s hide who is, incidentally, holed up in a high rollers suite in a swanky Lake Tahoe hotel with a squad of bodyguards.
Did I forget to mention that Buddy is an alcohol-drenched, coked up scuzzbag of the highest order? He’s a small-time operator who thinks he’s big-time and just because he rubs shoulders with high level mafia types he thinks can treat everybody around him like crap. When we meet Buddy, he’s rapidly self-destructing via drugs and is a complete bloodshot, bloated, burnt out mess that Jeremy Piven plays to perfection. To his credit, he does try to instill some kind of pathos in the guy, delivering one of his strongest, most fully developed performances to date.
It really speaks volumes about the lack of well-written scripts being greenlighted in Hollywood these days when a screenplay like this, that features some admittedly snappy, clever dialogue but otherwise derivative, would attract this many big name stars and character actors. And why not? Smokin’ Aces gives them the chance to play larger than life characters – world-weary bailbondsmen, sexy hitwomen, insane neo-Nazis and cooler than cool bodyguards – and spout all sorts of tough guy dialogue. Carnahan gets excellent performances from his entire cast, including musicians-turned-actors Alicia Keys and Common. Everyone looks like they’re having a blast disappearing into their respective roles and this is part of the fun in watching this movie.
As everyone converges on Buddy’s suite, the carnage comes fast and furious and bloody as Carnahan tries to upstage Ritchie and Tarantino in the stylish body count quota. What he doesn’t do is improve on what these guys have already done. Instead, he merely recycles it. That being said, Carnahan does so in an exciting and entertaining way. Hopefully, he will learn his lesson on this film and tone things down a notch or two on his next one, an adaptation of James Ellroy’s White Jazz, which, if done right, could be Narc set in the 1950s.
There are four deleted and extended scenes that feature more footage with the not-too bright bounty hunters and also the neo-Nazi brothers.
Also included is a very funny “Outtakes” reel that showcases Ben Affleck’s crappy pool ball playing skills, Ray Liotta making fun of Carnahan and all sorts of blown lines by the cast.
“Cowboy Ending” is an alternate ending to the film that is much more violent in nature and wisely discarded.
“The Line-Up” is a collection of mini-profiles of all the main characters with the actors talking about them with clips from the movie.
“The Big Gun” focuses on Carnahan as he talks about how he wanted to make a refined drive-in movie. He had a few projects fall through (including Mission: Impossible III) and this film was a chance for him to work out his frustrations by making a gonzo crime film. There is also footage of him on the set working on scenes through various stages of the production in this too-brief extra.
“Shoot ‘Em Up: Stunts and Effects” takes a quick look at the weapons training the cast underwent. Some of the actors talk about how much fun it was while Carnahan praises his technical advisor.
There is an audio commentary by Carnahan and editor Robert Frazen. Not surprisingly, they talk about the editing process and all of the footage they cut and how much information they wanted to give the audience in a given scene. Carnahan points out the nods to some of his favourite filmmakers, like Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Mann and Martin Scorsese. The two men also talk about the variations that they tried for certain scenes in what amounts to a pretty decent track.
Finally, there is a commentary by Carnahan and actors Common, Christopher Holley and Zach Cumer. This is a looser track as everyone cracks jokes and basically has a good time talking about making this movie. Carnahan riffs on Affleck’s bad pool playing and tends to dominate while the others tell a few anecdotes. While the first commentary is more filmmaking-oriented, this is a fun, entertaining track