Smokin' Aces

2007, Movie, R, 107 mins


Less a laddish lark a la LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS and more an existential howl of despair, writer-director Joe Carnahan's convoluted third feature sends a heavily armed swarm of cops, mercenaries and freaks bouncing off each other in a Lake Tahoe hotel, all in pursuit of a mob turncoat.

Cocaine-addled sleaze Buddy "Aces" Israel (Jeremy Piven), a sweaty Las Vegas headliner with underworld connections and a criminally unconvincing hairpiece, is about to sell out his Mafia connections for personal immunity. Rapidly failing East Coast capo Primo Sparazza (Joseph Ruskin), who has nurtured and protected Israel since he was a brash youngster with a cheesy repertory of vintage card tricks, orders a hit via underling Serna (Alex Rocco), with the macabre proviso that he wants Israel's heart. Before Serna can finish contracting girl-power assassins Georgia Sykes and Sharice Watters (Alicia Keys, Taraji Henson) for a cool million-dollar fee, word that there's a generous price on Israel's head has filtered out to everyone, from FBI agents Messner and Carruthers (Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta) and bail bondsmen Dupree, Deeks and Elmore (Ben Affleck, Peter Berg, Martin Henderson) to sadist-for-hire Pasquale Acosta (Nestor Carbonell), scarred master-of-disguise Lazlo Soot (Tommy Flanagan), a mysterious figure known only as "The Swede" (Vladimir Kulich) and neo-Nazi sociopaths Darwin, Jeeves and Lester Tremor (Chris Pine, Kevin Durand, Maury Sterling). While Israel's manager (Curtis Armstrong) negotiates the terms of his deal with FBI deputy director Stanley Locke (Andy Garcia), the Feds make tracks for Israel's top-floor safe house at the Nomad Hotel, where he's cooped up with none-too-bright flunky Hugo Croop (Joel Edgerton), bodyguards Sir Ivy and Beanie (Common, Christopher Holley) and a revolving flock of hookers, in hopes of securing him in protective custody before some pistol-packing opportunist gets to him first. But there's more to the situation than meets the eye, and it all somehow circles back to long-dead undercover FBI agent Freeman Heller (Mike Falkow), whom Sparazza killed after Heller's cover was blown.

The gleeful sadism and snarky dialogue of the film's opening scenes quickly gives way to something darker and more disorienting, driven by a deep, coruscating disgust at the world's venal duplicity and corruption, which recalls Carnahan's more overtly soul-sick NARC (2002). For rip-snorting pop entertainment, it's one discomfiting, nasty piece of work, and ain't that a kick in the head. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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