Is this the ultimate Mafia bloodfest, or a cruel farce on the subject of FBI incompetence? Either, neither, it doesn’t matter, because comprehension is the first victim and credibility the last. Treat it as a live action cartoon, with dramatic pretensions, and you will not be disappointed.

Everyone wants to kill Buddy Israel (Jeremy Piven), otherwise known as Aces, otherwise known as a top dollar magician, with a penchant for hookers and cocaine. Right now, he is holed up in a Lake Tahoe penthouse suite, with a full deck of half naked ladies littering the living (soon to be dying) room, coked to the eyeballs, while a dubious collection of bounty hunters, psychopathic nutcases, heavily armed black chicks and a mysterious Swede are heading his way. Simultaneously, with the help of low tech surveillance gear, the FBI, represented by Agent Messner (Ryan Reynolds) and Agent Carruthers (Ray Liotta), under the supervision of steely-eyed Locke (Andy Garcia), is on a mission to keep the little shit alive.

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Why?

There is an old bloke (Joseph Ruskin), allegedly the last of the Mafioso goddads, lying in bed in some mansion, looking as if he is about to croak. Messner and Carruthers are squeezed into a surveillance van in the street, listening to every conversation in the house. Eventually, they overhear talk of taking Aces out with “the Swede” and so join the hordes of hitpersons, heading for Lake Tahoe.

Writer/director Joe Carnahan uses a clunky version of Lock Stock’s introductory technique, slo-moing characters to a halt, flashing names and professions onto the screen, which, due to their diversity and numbers, you forget immediately. There are scenes in which motive, either monetary or insane, is discussed, but you don’t know, because you haven’t been paying attention, due to the constant roar of gunfire, what is so important about this paranoid cardsmart with white powder up his nose and a retinue of mentally defective thugs.

Once the big shooters make their appearance at the hotel anything can (does) happen and the film metamorphoses into a video game, called Whose Goin’ To Take Aces Down? The violence puts Tarantino to shame and, once you forget about the why, it is possible to sit back and enjoy the now, although, by the time Carnahan divulges the twist in the tail, frankly you don’t give a damn.

Amongst an impressive array of talent, it is good to see Reynolds with a meat-and-two-veg role, instead of his usual teen-com fluffage, and the ever-versatile Piven proves yet again what an excellent middle order player he is. Liotta and Garcia do what they do, like this is a tribute gig for all their past gangster flicks, and the delectable Alicia Keys in her acting debut, as one half of the hitgirl duo, has a memorable moment stuck in a lift with two guys who have shot each other to a sitstill. Ben Afflick, as one of the bounty hunters, is a waste of space, but when have you heard that before?

If violence is the new porn, Smokin’ Aces rates as high class soft core – only one scene of torture – despite a body count at the level of a day in Baghdad.

Reviewed on: 10 Jan 2007
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Smokin' Aces packshot
A contract killing at Lake Tahoe with an assortment of assassins and the FBI blundering along behind.
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