'Smokin'Aces' Film's a pack of nonsense, with some fun thrown in

By Barry Paris / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Today's Special -- all the nonstop blood 'n' guts you can eat in one sitting -- is "Smokin' Aces," essentially a National Assassins Convention in Nevada, with killer entertainment.

FBI agents Ray Liotta and Ryan Rey-nolds have been eavesdropping on an ancient mafia boss and gotten wind of a $1 million contract on a Tahoe nightclub headliner, Buddy "Aces" Israel (Jeremy Piven). Aces is a crime-czar wannabe, now turning state's evidence. The mob wants him and his heart -- literally, on a sort of platter. The FBI wants him alive.

That a lounge-act magician could also be a mafia don is tough to swallow in theory and even tougher in practice, the more we see of Aces in the hole of his Tahoe penthouse. Delusional, coke-drenched and sex-sated, he presides there over a sleazy retinue that includes the world's dumbest bodyguard (Joel Edgerton), who manages to get his face stolen.

The agents and their boss, Andy Garcia, meanwhile, are frantically trying to keep track of all the assorted assassins and mercenaries out to get Aces before the feds do.

Among them are a bounty hunter (Ben Affleck); a torture-killer (Nestor Carbonell), who moves his victim's mouth like a ventriloquist for post-mortem conversation; a mysterious Swede (not Garbo); a master of disguise named Lazlo Soot (Tommy Flanagan); a pair of black lesbian hitpersons (Alicia Keys and sniper-lover Taraji Henson), and a trio of neo-Nazi psychopaths with chainsaws, employed by -- it's unclear. The Hitler Estate, I guess.

There's also a mercenary with freshly amputated fingers (Martin Henderson), who is tormented by a kung-fu kid on Ritalin and his indulgent grandmother.

For sheer absurdity, Ritalin Boy and Granny are my faves. Everybody's here except Bigfoot and bin Laden. It reminds me of the end of "Blazing Saddles," with the cowboys and Indians bumping into the gay tap dancers. If about half of these characters had been eliminated, so might have been the utter clutter of the plot.

But such is not the way of writer-director Joe Carnahan. He and his pix (cult hits "Narc" and "Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane") belong to the Tarantino school, rushing ever faster and more furiously after nonsense thrills.

Not that "Smokin' " ain't fun. Sexy Keys is delicious. Jason Bateman has a terrific scene ranting and raving in his underwear, though neither I nor anyone I consulted later could explain its relation to the story. Liotta and Carbonell have an incredible elevator duel to the death. Such set pieces and their apocalypse -- an eye-popping, four-way shootout -- are unburdened by logic. Cinematographer Mauro Fiore gets good gore mileage out of the widescreen Panavision.

But all that fuss about getting Buddy's ticker? It could've been avoided by a simple phone call to Mel Gibson, who has not just Aces', but lots of other hearts left over from "Apocalypto."
Post-Gazette film critic Barry Paris can be reached at parispg48@aol.com .

Subscribe to BarryParis.com RSS Feed