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Joe Carnahan
Jeremy Piven, Ben Affleck, Zach Cumer, Jason Bateman, Common, Joseph Ruskin, Andy Garcia, Alex Rocco, Alicia Keys, Wayne Newton, Ray Liotta, Ryan Reynolds
Writing Credits:
Joe Carnahan

May the best hitman win.

Slick Las Vegas illusionist Buddy "Aces" Israel isn't playing nice. Turns out, he's telling mob secrets to the FBI. After a $1 million contract is put out on him, Aces tries to pull his greatest disappearing act before a rogues' gallery of ex-cons, hit men and smokin' hot assassins tries to rub him out in this dark action comedy that takes no prisoners.

Box Office:
$17 million.
Opening Weekend
$14.638 million on 2218 screens.
Domestic Gross
$35.662 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 109 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 4/17/2007

• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Joe Carnahan and Editor Robert Farazen
• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Joe Carnahan and Actors Common, Christopher Holley and Zach Cumer
• Alternate Ending, Deleted/Extended Scenes and Outtakes
• “Shoot ‘Em Up: Stunts and Effects” Featurette
• “The Line Up” Interactive Feature
• “The Big Gun: Smokin’ Aces” Featurette
• Previews


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Smokin' Aces (2007)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 25, 2007)

A violent mix of comedy and drama comes to us with 2007’s Smokin’ Aces. A text preface tells us that the FBI has eradicated the mafia except for mob boss Primo Sparazza (Joseph Ruskin). The feds target him and want to get a key witness to turn against him: Las Vegas magician Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven). Agents Messner (Ryan Reynolds) and Carruthers (Ray Liotta) stake out the Sparazza residence and learn that the mobsters put out a million dollar bounty to off Israel. This means that every slimebag in the business comes out of the woodworks to seal this deal. The movie follows their activities – and the feds’ attempts to keep their witness alive.

If you just examine that synopsis, Aces might sound like a serious law enforcement drama. That’s only occasionally the truth, as the flick instead often embraces a wilder, more anarchic approach. Really a throwback to the ironic, flippant violence of the post-Tarantino Nineties, it presents a never-ending series of quirky characters and circumstances as it tries to involve us in its tale.

It doesn’t work. Some problems come from the inconsistent tone. While much of Aces does throw us a wild ride, when we deal with Messner and his cohorts, the movie turns more serious. The flick changes styles and attitudes at the drop of a hat, as it jumps around with abandon.

This creates real problems. Indeed, the stylistic incoherence can become genuinely jarring. One minute we’ll be in a serious, emotional sequence, and the next we’ll meet some nutty character who feels like a refugee from a broad comedy. It feels like the movie is afraid to take on too dramatic a tone, so it delivers self-consciously nutty bits to leaven the darkness. Rather than give us a relief, these moments distract us and fail to succeed.

A lot of that stems from the annoying nature of these characters. They come across as obvious, forced attempts at wackiness, not coherent personalities. This gets really tacky at times, as some roles look like nothing more than attempts to throw us off-base. The worst example involves a little kid who talks like he’s from the ghetto and practices karate. Not only does the kid grate – and feel totally out of place – but also the filmmakers deem it “funny” to show him get a boner when he threatens another character. Who thinks up this nonsense?

Perhaps I could excuse some of this if I found some actual strengths in Aces. In addition to the erratic shifts in tone and the self-consciously quirky characters, we find a simple story made too complicated. At its heart, Aces offers a very basic tale that doesn’t need frills. I don’t normally write one paragraph plot synopses, but I saw no need to get bogged down in superfluous details.

Clearly the filmmakers disagreed. Though the movie is nothing more than a violent caper at its heart, Aces tries to gussy itself up with lots of plot complications. This worked for The Usual Suspects but harms Aces. Indeed, the flick feels like a wannabe, as it borrows from other – better – efforts in an attempt to make the results seem more substantial. Unfortunately, these just reflect poorly on Aces and lead us to long for something with higher quality.

The first 15 minutes of Aces provides non-stop exposition, almost all of which seems unnecessary. Again, this is a basic little tale that doesn’t require so much detail. Just throw us into the action and we’ll figure out the rest along the way.

Perhaps a more competent filmmaker could get away with that, but writer/director Joe Carnahan shows no such self-confidence. He overwrites the flick and bogs us down with relentless dialogue and overwhelming exposition. This makes the story plod as it tries to involve us in matters. Less is more, but no one involved here understands that concept.

This leaves Smokin’ Aces as a big mess of a film. It steals from many superior filmmakers to tell an excessively complicated tale with little impact. Its attempts at plot twists can be seen from a mile away, but the movie seems too impressed with itself to understand what a disaster it really is.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus B

Smokin’ Aces appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though not without concerns, the transfer seemed reasonably satisfying.

A few issues came from sharpness. Wide shots occasionally looked a bit soft and ill-defined, but those instances didn’t occur with great frequently. The majority of the flick offered decent clarity and delineation. I noticed no signs of shimmering or jagged edges, and virtually no source defects presented themselves. I noticed some edge haloes through the flick.

Aces went with a stylized palette, as the colors tended toward the desaturated side. The DVD replicated the tones with good fidelity, and they seemed to fit well with the visual design. Blacks were rich and tight, while shadows seemed clear and appropriately visible. The mild softness and edge haloes left this as a “B”-level transfer.

I also thought that the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Smokin’ Aces proved fairly effective. Much of the time the soundfield remained fairly subdued. It usually went with general environmental information and also added good stereo imaging for the music. Occasionally it kicked into higher gear, though, and those scenes added punch. For instance, the action sequences used all five speakers well. This wasn’t an incredibly active mix, but it spread out when necessary.

I found some minor problems with the balance and quality, though. Speech was usually intelligible and natural, but I heard some light edginess, and the mix occasionally left the dialogue a little too low in volume; that meant some lines were a bit hard to hear. Effects seemed clear and accurate, at least, and they showed good range. Music was also lively and dynamic. Overall, the audio satisfied, though the mild concerns meant it ended up with a “B”.

We find a good collection of extras on this DVD. The package starts with two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from writer/director Joe Carnahan and editor Robert Farazen, both of whom sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. They look at story and editing issues, cast, characters and performances, sets and locations, influences, and a mix of production nuts and bolts.

Carnahan seems somewhat full of himself and the commentary comes with too much praise for the flick and those involved, but otherwise, this is a good track. We get a frank appraisal of various topics and learn quite a lot about the flick. The participants keep things light and lively as they offer a satisfying examination of the production.

The second commentary presents writer/director Joe Carnahan and actors Common, Christopher Holley and Zach Cumer. They give us another running, screen-specific chat. This track looks at locations and sets, characters, cast and performances, and general thoughts about the production.

At the start of the commentary, Carnahan mentions that he doesn’t plan to say much since he already recorded the track with Farazan. However, he acknowledges his chatty ways and admits he’ll probably dominate the proceedings. The latter side of things comes true, as Carnahan fills most of the discussion, though the others get in a few decent remarks.

Not a lot of great material shows up here. A fair amount of repetition occurs, and we still get too much happy talk. The commentary is loose and amusing enough, as Carnahan remains a fun talker, but there’s not much worthwhile content on display.

The DVD presents a collection of unused footage. We get an alternate ending, deleted/extended scenes and outtakes. The “Cowboy Ending” lasts 65 seconds, while the collection of outtakes goes for nine minutes, 29 seconds. As for the deleted/extended scenes, they include “Longer Bar Sequence” (2:31), “You Ain’t No Chinese” (1:25), “Elmore Crawls Out of Lake” (0:19) and “Alternate Rooftop Parking Lot” (5:06). In a self-indulgent movie, they prove to be more of the same, as they don’t bring out anything useful or intriguing in terms of story or characters.

Getting back to “Ending”, it simply offers a more direct, violent conclusion to the narrative. I don’t think it works better or worse for the finish found in the flick. Finally, the “Outtakes” give us bloopers and goofiness from the set. A few amusing moments emerge – such as when we witness Ben Affleck’s lack of skill on the pool table – but most of the material falls into the standard blooper realm.

Next comes a featurette called Shoot ‘Em Up: Stunts and Effects. It lasts four minutes, 53 seconds as it includes notes from Carnahan, special effects coordinator Larz Anderson, and actors Ryan Reynolds, Taraji Henson, Alicia Keys, Maury Sterling, Chris Pine, Kevin Durand, Ben Affleck, and Ray Liotta. As you might expect from such a short piece, there’s not a lot of depth to “Shoot”. We get very basic notes on effects and stunts, and we learn a little about how the actors dealt with these challenges. For its length, this is a decent program, but we don’t learn a ton from it.

Another featurette entitled The Big Gun: Smokin’ Aces runs 11 minutes, 54 seconds. It features Carnahan as he talks about his goals for the flick, trivia, and various aspects of the shoot. The footage from the set offers the strongest elements of “Gun”, as we see some interesting behind the scenes bits. Carnahan’s chatty nature helps make the piece crank along well in other ways. It’s not a killer featurette but it presents a fun look at parts of the flick.

An interactive feature arrives next with The Line Up. This lets us learn a little more about the movie’s characters. To find short featurettes, you can click on these areas: Buddy Israel (2:05), Bounty Hunters (2:46), the Feds (3:14), Lethal Ladies (2:34), and the Tremor Brothers (2:47). Across these, we hear from Common, Keys, Henson, Affleck, Reynolds, Sterling, Pine, Durand, and actors Jeremy Piven, Jason Bateman, Peter Berg, Martin Henderson, and Andy Garcia. These pieces basically just discuss the characters and give us a little insight into them. They never become vital programs, but they help flesh out the personalities in a moderately interesting way.

A few Previews open the DVD. We get ads for Children of Men, Alpha Dog, Heroes, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Las Vegas, Hot Fuzz, The Hitcher and HD-DVD. No trailer for Aces shows up on the disc.

A messy melange of cheap humor, annoyingly quirky characters, inconsistent tone and excessive exposition and dialogue, Smokin’ Aces flops in almost every possible way. It never remotely gels into a coherent experience, as it jumps around so much that it can’t connect with the viewer. Not that most folks will care, as they’ll abandon this stinker within the first 20 minutes. The DVD presents generally positive picture and audio as well as a pretty nice set of extras. I can’t complain about this solid release, but the movie itself falls short of its goals.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.7647 Stars Number of Votes: 17
4 3:
View Averages for all rated titles.

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