It's a mad, mad, mad, mad world of hit men, hookers and assorted crazies that writer-director Joe Carnahan has compiled in the willfully incoherent action-comedy "Smokin' Aces." The filmmaker spins a violent, cartoonish tale about a Vegas illusionist moonlighting in organized crime, an aging Mafioso who wants him dead, the FBI agents investigating them and the swarm of hired killers and bounty hunters who descend like locusts on his Reno hideout in pursuit of $1 million.
Carnahan begins the film by dumping a truckload of exposition and clumsily handled back story on us, then spends the next 90 minutes or so assaulting us with over-the-top carnage and non-sequitur-driven gags. There are nuggets of humor and flashes of hilariously choreographed brutality among the splatter patterns, but his reluctance to develop any of the ideas beyond the vignette level makes for an unsatisfying whole.
FOR THE RECORD:
'Smokin' Aces': The review of the movie "Smokin' Aces" in Friday's Calendar section misstated one of the locations as Reno. It should have been Lake Tahoe, Nev. Also, the review misspelled the last name of actor Maury Sterling as Serling. —
Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta (the latter starred in Carnahan's breakout 2002 cop drama, "Narc") play FBI agents performing surveillance in a van outside the home of Primo Sparazza, the vengeful godfather. When a rumor spreads through the underworld that Sparazza has put a price tag on the head of Buddy "Aces" Israel — the headlining entertainer with crime boss aspirations who's about to sing like a canary and enter the witness relocation program — potential executioners besiege the Biggest Little City in the World to try to claim the prize.
Played by Jeremy Piven, Buddy is a card-flippin', coke-snortin', sleazeball head case holed up with a collection of high-end prostitutes in a hotel penthouse on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe while his attorney negotiates a deal with the deputy director of the FBI (Andy Garcia, sporting an unconvincing Southern twang). For the assassins lining up outside, the penthouse setup is like shooting fish in a barrel.
Among the killers falling over one another in the hotel lobby and hallways are Georgia (Alicia Keys) and Sharice (Taraji P. Henson), a sexy but lethal pair straight out of a blaxploitation flick; the apparently inbred Tremor brothers (Chris Pine, Kevin Durand and Maury Serling), who'd be right at home in a Rob Zombie movie; the latex-masked, shape-shifting Lazlo Soot (Tommy Flanagan); and Pasquale Acosta (Nestor Carbonell), a sadist so depraved he chewed off his own fingertips to avoid being ID'd. Ben Affleck, Peter Berg and Martin Henderson also show up briefly as skip tracers hired by a scene-stealing Jason Bateman, the only character in the film whose screen time is regrettably short.
The degree of overkill these characters bring to the proceedings with their rocket-launchers, assault weapons and devices of torture is part of the blueprint. The unrelenting tenor, however, and blitzkrieg of a soundtrack are a cumulative drag.
Logic and plot are convoluted afterthoughts in the world of "Smokin' Aces," but Carnahan takes great pains to conclude things with a shaggy dog ending and a twist that will only be surprising if you nodded off or dropped your Red Vines early on. It's a grindhouse-inspired concoction that may not contain a shred of originality, but it is executed with unbridled bombast and glee.
If you poured "Oceans 11, 12, etc ... " and the "Kill Bill" movies into a blender, added some tomato juice and a shot of Tabasco — then threw it against a wall — it might look something like this.
"Smokin' Aces." MPAA rating: R, for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use. Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes. In general release.