Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Smokin' Aces

(This one's going to be in the Feb. 6 issue of The Chronicle)

One million dollars, seven contract killers, one target. The plot of Smokin’ Aces seems simple enough when you watch the preview, and when you pay for your ticket and sit down to watch the movie, there’s going to be a certain expectation for action and violence. And this movie has action and violence in, well, aces.

The movie starts out quietly enough, with FBI agents Carruthers (Ray Liotta) and Messner (Ryan Reynolds) having a friendly chat about the benefits of urine for you skin while on a stakeout. Suddenly they pick up a call about a $1 million hit on Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven).

Suddenly the movie shifts gears and for the next 10 minutes so much information is being shoved down your throat that your head spins. It’s practically impossible to keep up with what’s going on, who’s being introduced and what you need to know.

The fact is, all that information is pointless and didn’t need to be told. All the audience needs to know is that Israel is a rat with seven contract killers coming after him. Why they needed to muddle it up with a complicated back-story and confusing history is a mystery. If you want to catch all the facts, you’re going to have to see it twice – though, who knows, maybe that’s the studio’s marketing plan.

After the mind-numbing exposition comes a section in the movie of these people just trying to get to the hotel where Israel is staying. On the way the violence and unexpected turns begin and it really does become an enjoyable movie.

The characters were all interesting to watch. Some are likeable with their bravado and humour (Ryan Reynolds), others are pitiable with their world spinning out of control around them (Jeremy Piven) and some were so unnervingly creepy that they’ll give children nightmares.

Jeremy Piven was incredible to watch on screen, and if anything, it’s worth seeing this movie just to see him act. That character probably has the most character development (which, to be perfectly honest, isn’t saying a whole lot as most characters weren't in it long enough to deserve character development) and he timed and delivered his lines perfectly.

When all the killers are in place and the real fighting gets underway, the audience is led to expect a climax that never really comes. While the trailers say ‘all hell breaks loose’, it really doesn’t.

Chaos, yes, but certainly not hell.

In fact, the fighting ends quite abruptly. It is as if director Joe Carnahan forgot about the climax.

However, he didn’t forget the climax, he just tried to make it a “thinking man’s” climax. The final 10 minutes of the film provides far too much explanation at once, and frankly, seems rushed and unnecessary. And the plot gaps remain wide and impossible to jump over.

Maybe scenes were missing that explained these impossible things, but the ‘shocking’ twist near the end was stupid. If it hadn’t been there the movie would have been much better.

Still the way the story is finally resolved was pretty well done in itself, despite the unnecessary plot twist.

So, was it a good movie? Yes. But Joe Carnahan tried way too hard to make it into a smart movie, and it’s really not a smart movie by any stretch on the imagination.

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