In this deck of cards, Aces are low

Smokin' Aces

on January 26, 2007 by Annlee Ellingson
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In his follow-up to 2002's Narc, which was well received upon its debut at Sundance, Joe Carnahan attempts to choreograph the same moves that characterized his earlier film — black humor, gritty violence and a complicated plot — but here the effect is clumsy. The movie's tagline reads, “May the best hit man win,” but the promise of a shootout among rival hired guns all after the same quarry goes unfulfilled, and Carnahan's dialogue, aside from a few gems, isn't as clever as he wants it to be. In a delightful continuation of a career resurrection owed to TV's Arrested Development, it's only Jason Bateman's turn as a self-loathing lawyer who lusts after the lifestyles of the lowlifes with whom he interacts, that successfully combines the humor and revulsion that Carnahan is going for.

A Vegas entertainer with ties to the mafia, Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven) is eager to parlay his showbiz status into a life of organized crime. But, when he gets in over his head and crosses the very mobsters who took him in, he turns state's evidence in an attempt to avoid life behind bars. Dispatched to retrieve Israel from a penthouse suite in Lake Tahoe as soon as the deal is made are two federal agents (Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta). Also on the hunt are four squads of assassins after the $1 million bounty rumored to have been put on Israel's head by the mob and a bail bondsman (Ben Affleck) and his team of ex-cops whose fee is a mere 50 grand.

Setting all this up involves a back story so complicated that it has to be summarized in several scenes of exposition, and it's 15 or 20 minutes before the stage is set and the action can begin. Then, plot developments come so fast and furious that Carnahan feels the need (unnecessarily to anyone who's paying attention) to remind viewers of clues laid into earlier scenes. And yet, although the setup is apparent, Carnahan's trademark twist ending is glossed over with too little explication. All of it is preposterous, stretching plausibility until it breaks, with final-act explanations — such as why someone as low-rent as Buddy Israel would be welcomed into the mob in the first place — only leading to more absurdity. Distributor: Universal
Cast: Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia, Alicia Keys, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven, Ryan Reynolds, Peter Berg, Taraji Henson, Chris Pine, Martin Henderson, Jason Bateman and Common
Director/Screenwriter: Joe Carnahan
Producers: Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner
Genre: Action comedy
Rating: R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use
Running time: 108 min.
Release date: January 26, 2007

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