Walter Weed (Tom Berenger) is an aging analyst who works at the FBI as an analyst. He doesn't seem like a particularly notable member of the team, which makes it all the more unusual that the Bureau uncovers an assassination plot against him. Agent Baker (Clayne Crawford) is on the case, whisking Weed off to a safe house situated in a bunker deep underground figuring that he'll be perfectly safe there. There's more to this than Baker realizes, however as assassins one assassin after the next shows up to collect the three million dollar bounty on Weed's head including a hitman named Finbar McTeague (Vinnie Jones), a foxy female assassin named Ariella Martinez (Martha Higareda), a bizarre master of disguise named Laslo Soot (Tommy Flanagan), and a group of related hillbilly killers made up of ringleader Lester Tremor (Maury Sterling), Fritz Tremor (Michael Parks), Kaitlin 'AK-47' Tremor (Autumn Reeser) and Baby Boy Tremor (C. Ernst Harth).
As Baker and his small team of agents set about trying to stop the plot, the assassins move in on the bunker, each one with their sights set on the prize. Thankfully, Baker has some help in the form of with the help of a club owner named Malcolm Little (Christopher Michael Holley) who arrives with his trusty shotgun in town, and eclectic FBI boss Anthony Vejar (Ernie Hudson). Shoots outs ensue, lots of people go down in a blaze of glory, and the Feds all try and figure out how Weed wound up in this situation to begin with.
As ridiculous as it is violent, Smokin' Aces 2: Assassn's Ball is kind of a lower budgeted version of the first picture in that it takes all of that first film's characteristics and runs with them, but obviously doesn't have the star power that the earlier picture had. That said, directed J.P. Pesce, working off of a script from Joe Carnahan who wrote and directed the first film, does manage to wrangle up a few interesting B-movie familiars to round out the cast. Berenger is good as the elderly desk worker who winds up in the middle of this mess and Michael Parks is good as Fritz Tremor. The real scene stealer, however (and this probably won't come as much of a surprise to many reading this) is Vinnie Jones, who crashes his way through the film with a great sense of humor that compliments his lower class British tough dude screen presence quite well.
The film is just as bloody and just as crass and just as over the top as the picture that spawned it, filled with profanity laden gun battles and plenty of creative weapon usage. Much of it feels very much like an overwrought exercise in style over substance, as there isn't really a whole lot to the story - in fact, it all feels like an excuse to frame a bunch of sporadic violence around one central character without much thought to logic or resolution. There is, however, this really thick sense of inspired lunacy that runs head first throughout the picture that can be a bit infectious. You definitely get the idea that everyone involved with this picture was having a lot of fun while they were working on it and while that doesn't necessarily make the picture's flaws any easier to look past, it does count for something.
The film moves along at a pretty decent pace, and while the script can sometimes feel like it's trying just a little too hard, the wanton bloodshed and quirky pulp-inspired atmosphere combined with a fun, B-level ensemble cast at least ensure some entertainment value. The bad guys are interesting characters and fun to watch and while this won't in the least bit appeal to anyone who didn't like Carnahan's original film, it should at least amuse those who did. The script throws in some odd political meanderings in its last act that don't really add much and feel a little forced, but otherwise you can put this one in the 'fun, loud and bloody' category along with the first one. Good entertainment on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Universal's 1080p VC-1 encoded 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks great despite some funky color saturation in some scenes (obviously a conscious choice on the part of the filmmakers). There are a couple of spots where the CGI looks a little flat and cartoonish but aside from that this is a very sharp, detailed and colorful transfer. You can see every hair on the characters' heads and close up shots really exhibit a lot of meticulous detail, especially in the actors' faces. Black levels are strong and deep without burying the shadow detail and there aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts, edge enhancement or macro blocking to note. The reds, of which there are plenty during the film's many gory shoot-outs, pop off the screen and really stand out. Some scenes flicker a bit in the background and some aliasing is apparent but these quibbles are minor, Smokin' Aces 2: Assassin's Ball looks pretty impressive on Blu-ray.
The English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio is rock solid on this release. There's plenty of surround activity to marvel over throughout the film, particularly when bullets start flying through the air and moving around the sound stage. Dialogue stays clean and clear throughout and the levels are well balanced though there are a couple of spots where the more bombastic action really comes through quite loudly. Bass response is nice and powerful and the mix has a nice, strong low end to it while the film's score has some nice clarity to it. French and Spanish DTS 5.1 Surround Sound dubs are included, while subtitles are offered in English SDH, French and Spanish.
The surprisingly hefty array of supplements on this release kicks off with a commentary track from director P.J. Pesce who seems to take things maybe just a little bit more seriously than he should be. Pesce is joined by the film's executive producer, Joe Carnahan, who directed the original film and the two have a fair bit to say about the film's influences, about casting choices, and about following up the original film with this second entry in the series. There's a good bit of time spent covering the writing and editing process with some welcome doses of humor and with a whole lot of insight. It borders on pretentious at times, and there are a few too many instances of dead air and self congratulatory rhetoric but for the most part this is quite a good commentary that will definitely appeal to fans of the film.
From there we move on to the featurettes, the first of which is the twenty six minute Confessions Of An Assassin documentary that features interviews with pretty much every cast and crew member you'd want to hear from. They all have nothing but praise for the film and for Pesce and Carnahan while we're treated to some fairly enjoyable behind the scenes footage and fun looks at how some of the blood and gore effects were created. Behind The Scenes With Joe Carnahan is a seven minute segment in which Carnahan talks about his original film, how and why they decided to make a follow up and how and why he brought Pesce onboard to make it for him. Ready, Aim... Fire! is a four minute piece that takes a quick look at each one of the weapons used in the movie, Cue The Clown is a brief three minute bit on how one particular scene was made while The Bunker Mentality is four minute examination of how the film's action centerpiece was put together.
Universal has also included ten minutes worth of Deleted And Extended Scenes (SD), none of which are really all that interesting or would have changed the movie much had they been included. They're here for those who want them, however. Rounding out the extras are a quick seven minute Gag Reel(SD) which isn't all that funny, Blu-ray live functionality, Universal's My Scenes bookmarking option, animated menus and chapter selection. All of the extras are presented in high definition except where indicted by (SD). The BD is also D-Box Motion Code enabled.
While this follow up, in many ways, feels like a rehash of the original film it's still a lot of good, mindless fun. Action junkies will appreciate the manic pace and over the top set pieces even if much of the movie is (intentionally) goofy. Universal's Blu-ray release looks good and sounds even better and contains some decent extra features as well. Definitely worth a rental for action junkies, recommended for fans of the first film.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.