Home Cheap Entertainment Off the Shelf: Smokin’ Aces

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Out of curiosity and sheer boredom, I’ve decided to start up a new column that will run once every week or two here at Reelloop. In Off the Shelf, I’ll randomly pick a DVD or Bluray out of my collection and write a few paragraphs of random thoughts about whatever film my finger lands on. Hopefully I can make some interesting points and draw your eye to a film you might not have seen before!

For my first film, we’ll be looking at Joe Carnahan’s 2006 film Smokin’ Aces.

You’ve got to hand it to Mr. Joe Carnahan, whether you hate Smokin’ Aces or love it dearly — the guy can pull together a great cast, and gets awesome performances out of each member. A quick scan of the IMDb page for the film evokes skepticism: Alicia Keys? Common? (Remember, these were the days before Common was in American Gangster and Terminator Salvation). Ben Affleck? Seriously?

But he gets away with it: every actor is used to their own abilities, and the script is full of surprise moments that lead certain characters to their untimely demise.

What looks on the surface to be a flashy gangster action film in the vein of Tarantino films or Boondock Saints turns out to actually be an extremely dense and frenetic examination of Bush-era doubt — Jeremy Piven’s Buddy “Aces” Israel is perched in his penthouse suite doing lots of cocaine, while the lower floors of the hotel begin to act as a Thunderdome for multiple sets of thugs, each with different tactics. Chris Pine’s group of redneck Tremor Brothers go in guns-a-blazing, while Nestor Carbonell uses disguises and a wicked concealed lung-puncturing device.

Meanwhile, Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta play two FBI agents who have to extract Israel before he’s inevitably whacked due to the bounty on his head. It’s worth noting that this film was my first exposure to Reynolds as more than a goofy comedic actor — his role here is remarkably straight-laced, and he performs with flying colors.

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There’s so many things happening simultaneously in Smokin’ Aces that it can become overwhelming at times — I’m sure the screenplay looked like chicken scratch. What makes it work is Carnahan’s dynamic and fluid style — in one moment, we’re on the 12th floor watching Alicia Keys’ buddy sniping away at FBI guys with an anti-aircraft gun, and the next we’re in the basement.

It’s funny, too. Jeremy Piven has gotten backlash lately for being sort of a one-note guy, but here he’s great as Israel, whose desperate and lavish existence is soon coming to an end. Pine (who is about 180 degrees away from Captain Kirk, here) is disgustingly brilliant as well.

Smokin’ Aces functions as an action film, as a comedy, and as a comment on George W. Bush’s push into foreign war — this commentary is obvious, but who cares? It’s one of the best films to surface from the Tarantino school of ultraviolent filmmaking, and it comes highly recommended.

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