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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Smokin' Aces
Smokin' Aces
Universal // R // April 17, 2007
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Eric D. Snider | posted April 17, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
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P R I N T
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THE MOVIE

When you love pulpy, bullet-ridden stories as much as Joe Carnahan apparently does, a film like "Smokin' Aces" is the natural expression of that love. It's loud, funny, and intentionally overdone, a bloody crime caper that feels like the offspring of "Reservoir Dogs," "Ocean's Eleven," and last year's "Running Scared."

The smokin' ace of the title is Buddy "Aces" Israel (Jeremy Piven), a successful Las Vegas magician and showman who, like so many of his ilk, got to be pals with mobsters and became a sort of court jester for the goodfellas. His affection for the Mafia led him to commit some crimes of his own, and now to avoid prosecution he's considering making a deal with the FBI in which he'll name names and bring down most of organized crime.

Primo Sparazza (Joseph Ruskin), the aging and sickly godfather, doesn't want that to happen, obviously, and he's put out a hit on Israel, offering a million dollars for his death and his heart as a trophy. Our heroes, FBI agents Carruthers (Ray Liotta) and Messner (Ryan Reynolds), are tasked with extracting Israel from his penthouse suite in a Lake Tahoe casino and getting him into protective custody before anyone can carry out Sparazza's wishes.

Considering the lofty cash prize, it's no wonder that a slew of assassins have come out of the woodworks, eager to kill Israel and earn the money. Sykes (Alicia Keys) and Watters (Taraji P. Henson) are a pair of black lesbian feminist hitwomen with high-powered weaponry and stealth skills; the Tremors (Chris Pine, Kevin Durand, Maury Sterling) are insane Nazi heavy-metal brothers who are as likely to use chainsaws as guns; Acosta (Nestor Carbonell), well-known for his prowess with torture; and Lazlo Soot (Tommy Flanagan), master of disguise.

Oh, and just for good measure? A bounty hunter (Ben Affleck, sporting a goozy Wisconsin accent) and two of his associates are looking for Israel, too. They were sent by Rip Reed (Jason Bateman), an alcoholic, self-deprecating lawyer who has a bunny suit in his hotel room and occasionally wears women's undergarments.

All of these people converge on the Nomad hotel and casino, everyone aware that they're not the only ones looking for Israel but no one sure who else, exactly, is on the case. It gets complicated and bloody.

Carnahan's previous film, "Narc" (also starring Liotta), was violent enough but barely hinted at his devilishly dark sense of humor. He lets it all hang out here, with audacious, obnoxious dialogue and over-the-top gun battles. To dismiss the film as nothing but gratuitous pulp fiction would be accurate, but it would be missing the point. Carnahan has gone overboard on purpose, reveling in the testosterone-fueled madness. It's never boring for a minute, and it's a ridiculous, fun waste of time.


THE DVD

There are optional English, Spanish, and French subtitles. No alternate-language soundtracks.

There is also a fullscreen version of the DVD available, in case you want to watch the movie but only want to see two-thirds of the picture at any given time.

VIDEO: The widescreen (2.35:1) anamorphic transfer is pristine and spotless, with minimal edge enhancement and a good range of colors.

AUDIO: It's a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, and while it booms and vibrates nicely, the dialogue is occasionally drowned out by the effects more than it ought to be. The movie is meant to be chaotic, of course, but you shouldn't have to strain to make out what the characters are saying as you sometimes do here.

EXTRAS: There's a very nice assortment here, with credit due to Universal for going all-out on a film that didn't do all that well at the box office.

We get not one but two commentaries. Writer/director Joe Carnahan does one with his editor, Robert Frazen, with both men relaxed, good-humored, and jovial. They mention they're drinking beer as they record the commentary, and it shows -- not because they get drunk, but because they sound like a couple of guys hanging out and shootin' the breeze while they drink beers. They dissect the film scene by scene, mostly from the standpoint of what they shot and what had to be cut out.

They also dish happily about the process. "Ray doesn't do downtime," Carnahan says about Ray Liotta, laughing about how the actor doesn't exactly enjoy the sit-around-and-wait that characterizes most film shoots. He talks about a mansion in L.A. where one scene was shot, mocking the owners' nouveau-riche lack of taste: "$50,000 bookshelves and they're holding Danielle Steel first editions."

The other commentary is Carnahan with actors Common, Christopher Holley, and Zach Cumer. Common and Holley play two of Buddy Israel's entourage, while Cumer plays a hyperactive kid encountered by one of the bounty hunters. They're not even close to being lead characters, in other words; what, none of the big names in the huge cast wanted to do the commentary? The commentary's point seems to be for Carnahan to crack jokes and the other three to laugh really hard at him. You can skip this one; the other one is much more informative and entertaining.

Four deleted and extended scenes (9:35 total) add merriment to the proceedings, if not much more in the way of plot. The longest is an alternate rooftop scene, where one of the bounty hunters confronts one of the Tremors and subsequently meet up with Messner.

The outtakes (9:28) depict the film shoot as a regular laugh riot, as actors flub their lines and Carnahan's and other crew members' raucous laughter is heard off-camera. Good times.

The "Cowboy Ending" (1:06) is an alternate version of the film's final scene that speeds things up a bit but offers more or less the same outcome.

"The Line-Up" offers 2-to-3-minute pieces on five sets of characters: Buddy Israel, the bounty hunters, the Tremors, the FBI agents, and the female assassins. The actors talk about their roles, what their characters are like, etc. (The guys who play the Tremor brothers do their bits in character, which is amusing.)

"The Big Gun" (11:54), meanwhile, is the same thing, but focusing exclusively on writer/director Carnahan (though he graciously talks up his essential crew members, too). He's a beefy, mid-sized bear of a man, always laughing, always having a great time making his crazy movie. He's a little pleased with himself, maybe a bit cocky, but if you liked the movie, you'll go along with it.

"Shoot 'Em Up: Stunts and Effects" (4:54) is a pretty interesting featurette on teaching the actors to shoot guns and the joy of having squibs (the explosive blood packets) go off when they're attached to your body.


IN SUMMARY

The film's violence and general outrageousness are probably quite a bit less jarring at home than they were on the big screen, which is either good or bad, depending on your preference. The movie's a lot of fun, and the DVD treatment is solid.

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