January 29, 2007

Smokin' Aces

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At first, I tried to follow what was going on in the film Smokin’ Aces. But it seems the writer and director, Joe Carnahan, did his best to make that impossible. So, at a certain point, I disengaged my brain and just watched what was going on. But as far as I can tell, the movie boils down to the following single idea: Many people are out to kill Buddy “Aces” Israel, a mob informant, while the FBI is out to protect him. The rest is really just icing on the cake.

However, there are attempts at explanation. In fact, there are chunks of the movie when we are being told who people are, and there are clarifications about what is going on, via voiceovers, by other characters. Nonetheless, whenever they do explain things, it makes only a small impression on the viewer.

There is a litany of characters, with complex inter-relationships, whose names go in one ear and out the other, and their roles in the plot make only a slightly larger impression. But in terms of some extra information, Buddy Israel is a Las Vegas magician and also a member of the Mafia. And the bulk of the action in the film takes place at Lake Tahoe, in some hotel.

Oh, also, this movie is hyper-violent. While some people enjoy excessive Tarantino-esque violence for the fun of it, I do not count myself as one of these. This makes Smokin’ Aces very hard to take.

Of course, I might have guessed this even before the movie started. The previews before Smokin’ Aces were some of the most creepy and violent trailers I have seen in some time. There were dolls that came alive and hotel rooms that killed. There was even the obligatory young girl-as-ghost. Ghost children are extremely freaky. Perhaps this catalogue of horrors should have tipped me off to the insanity that was to come during the feature presentation.

So, what do we have thus far? A movie that is hard to follow and hard to stomach. But it is not without its charm. My friend described this movie as Ocean’s Eleven meets Reservoir Dogs. It does indeed contain some of the witty banter and breeziness of Ocean’s Eleven (some of the exchanges, such as the opening banter between two guys in a van, are quite droll).

And just as Ocean’s Eleven has an entertaining roster of characters, so too is Smokin’ Aces rife with intriguing people, which is an aspect for which the movie might be worth watching. Many of these are the assassins, which include a torture expert and a team of Mein Kampf-reading, Texas Chainsaw Massacre-style freaks. However, the character who really steals the show is a lawyer (frankly, I am not really sure what part he actually played in the plot) played by Jason Bateman, of Arrested Development fame. Bateman, as elsewhere, is magnificent in playing a slightly odd character effortlessly and impeccably.

Other than Jason Bateman, who else might you recognize? Well, “Aces” Israel is played by Jeremy Piven, of Entourage fame. In fact, if I recall correctly, twice in the movie they actually use the word “entourage” — it really jumps out at you, if you are familiar with Piven’s pedigree. (Dear reader: please feel free to count for yourself the number of times the word is spoken and see if my count is accurate). Alicia Keys also makes her film debut, and we have Ben Affleck too, among others.

Random fact: at IMDB, Smokin’ Aces is listed as a movie from 2006. Maybe it came out earlier somewhere else. Or maybe I have stumbled onto an error on IMDB. Either way, no one cares all that much. Sort of like with what happens in this movie.