Smokin' Aces packs strong ensemble cast

Assassination thriller plot can't keep up with actors

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Scene from Smokin' Aces

Smokin’ Aces
Directed by: Joe Carnahan
Starring: Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Andy Garcia

3.5 stars

Smokin’ Aces has lots of smoke, but good luck finding the fire.

Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven) is a Las-Vegas-performer-turned-wannabe-mobster-turned-snitch being pursued by several incongruous assassins vying for the $1-million bounty on his head.

As contract killers and murderous thugs hunt Israel, FBI agents Donald Carruthers (Ray Liotta) and Richard Messner (Ryan Reynolds) try desperately to keep him alive so they can use his testimony to bring down the mob.

Liotta and Reynolds give strong performances. Reynolds’ volatile scenes with the FBI’s regional director (Andy Garcia) are particularly startling and effective. Though Reynolds is known for playing wise-cracking, tongue-in-cheek-type characters, his intense performance shows his acting range.

Ben Affleck plays Jack Dupree, a Vegas bail bondsman trying to capture Israel with the help of two ex-cops (Martin Henderson and Peter Berg).

Affleck does an excellent job conveying his sleazy character. His gruff demeanor is a welcome change from his usual pretty-boy performances.

Smokin’ Aces comedic character is Rip Reed (Jason Bateman), an open-minded informant for Dupree. Bateman’s witty but awkward quips are almost enough to keep viewers from wondering where the sores around his mouth came from.

Though his performance is slightly idiomatic, Piven plays Israel well. Piven portrays Israel as a strung-out and increasingly suicidal character with feigned confidence. Initially Israel resembles Piven’s tightly-wound and irreverent character from Entourage. However, once Israel collapses into the deadly bed he has made for himself, Piven reveals his diverse acting skills.

While Smokin’ Aces’ actors are impressive, its plot isn’t. The skilled cast adds some " but not enough " class to the formulaic gore and gunfire-filled storyline.

The Smokin’ Aces’ premise is simple: bad things happen without cause or reason. If there’s an underlying meaning to the film’s centre, it’s lost amidst the obscure anarchy of interweaving ambitions and excessive violence.

While Smokin’ Aces seems complex, it doesn’t offer anything to validate its complexity, resulting in an appealing but forgettable film.

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