The Movie Buffer

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Smokin' Aces


I spoil movies like butter spoils popcorn


Magician/mobster, Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven of Entourage) is looking to make a deal with the FBI to sell out his ‘family’. All he needs is the call from his lawyer saying that the FBI will be placing him in protective custody and the witness protection program.

If there’s one thing the mafia knows, it’s how to make a body disappear, so it’s a race against time and an army of hitmen for FBI director Locke (Andy Garcia) and agents, Carruthers (Ray Liotta) and Messner (Ryan Reynolds of Waiting). Meanwhile, four teams of assassins, lured by the one million dollar bounty on Israel’s head, set their plans in motion.

Along with the FBI and the assassins, there is a group of bail bondsmen/bounty hunters, lead by Jack Dupree (Ben Affleck), who are on the job to bring Buddy in on a bond that he ditched in Las Vegas.

When a movie, like this one, has so many marquee actors, individual points of view, and action sequences none of the characters get the time to really flesh out, with exception of Carruthers and Locke. This wouldn’t have been a problem in another action movie because they don’t bother with character development at all, but director, Joe Carnahan, dedicated the first hour to the back story of the assassins, the mafia and the feds only to let it all go when the action starts.

Once the action begins, the director’s mastery behind the camera becomes apparent. The story rolls right along and aptly reveals all the facets of the shady dealings in the mafia and the FBI. Since there are six points of view and they all intersect at Buddy’s hideout, the penthouse suite at a casino in Lake Tahoe, tight editing and smooth transitions from one to the next help in sorting out what is going on.

Liotta and Garcia play their characters impeccably and with palpable conviction. Being veterans with the subject matter, they know exactly how to make use of their limited face time to bring out their character’s personalities. Alicia Keys, who plays Georgia Sykes, makes her big screen debut as a femme fatale who is contracted to deliver the hit on Israel. She plays her role as cool and composed as many of the more senior actors. The rest of the cast seem to just go through the motions in delivering their characters.

Unfortunately, the one word that best describes this movie is: stock. There is nothing novel to this picture. We’ve seen it before in every mob film where some stooley is about to squeal and the cops rush in to meet the assassins with guns blazing. Everything that has come to be cliché in a mobster movie is included in this picture: The stake-out outside the godfather’s mansion, the nervous snitch, the pair of FBI agents with a father-son type relationship, the drive-by killings, the mysterious lone gunman, et cetera. The cherry on the top of the sundae would have been that this was agent Carruthers’ last day on the job before retirement (I was waiting for this line to come but it never did).

Though this is a plain mobster movie, it had enough action and a little comedy, provided by Jason Bateman, to make it watchable. This was a 6/10 or two and a half out of five stars film because it doesn’t maintain the story, as bland as it was, or come at the genre with a new or interesting perspective. The film scores points on the action: there are some great scenes with double crosses, the plans that the hitmen use are rather good, and there are a few plot twists that are decent. Fans of chase scenes, gunplay or Alicia Keys in revealing outfits will enjoy this film but otherwise it’s a disposable action film which can be left until it’s available for rental.


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