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'Aces': Straight or Flush?

Film Review

Like its lead character Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven), “Smokin’ Aces” bites off far more than it can chew. What makes for an interesting and funny — though completely drugged out — character in the movie makes for a bloated and at some times senseless film.

The opening of “Smokin’ Aces” quickly and painlessly introduces a plethora of characters too numerous to list, played by a plethora of actors not necessary to list, all of them after Mafia mole Israel, who is holed up in the locked down penthouse of a hotel at Lake Tahoe.

Sounds like the perfect set up for some mindless bloody action — where bullets fly, camera angles tilt and plenty of bodies fall; and it is, but “Aces” doesn’t stick with that set up. Instead it veers into emotional connections, FBI cover ups and a twist ending that’s useless.

What could have been mindless fun thinks itself into a poorly executed drama.

Doesn’t a few assassins, gunning for Buddy by shooting up a hotel with every known weapon, sound a lot more fun than watching Richard Messner (Ryan Reynolds) weep over the dead body of his now ex-partner, Donald Carruthers (Ray Liota)? They aren’t even that close until he gets shot. There are chain saws, crazed killers, high powered sniper rifles, sexy women, drugs, tortures, the Mafia and absolutely ridiculous murders — but “Aces” doesn’t give the proper time to all this fun because it’s trying to be something it's not.

In its attempt to be dramatic, the film thinks it's necessary to give every character some sort of emotional background (it’s the Tremor Brother assassins, who don’t have one, that are the best). In its desperate bid to seem more clever, the film inserts a crazy twist ending. What gets lost in “Smokin’ Aces'” desperate attempt to be more than it can be is a performance from Jeremy Piven that blows you away more than any of the gun shots fired. Snorting heroin and surrounded by hookers, Piven’s Israel, a Las Vegas magician, is the perfect combination of what the film wants to be: serious, yet fun. Unfortunately, the only other character nearly as fun to watch is a small cameo by “Arrested Developments” Jason Bateman. Hopefully director Joe Carnahan goes back to his “Blood, Guts and Bullets” roots and knocks off the thinking stuff, straps on a helmet and starts shooting.

<1b>— Matthew Razak