Smokin' Aces (2006)

Rating: **
Review Date: 11/21/09
Written And Directed By: Joe Carnahan
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven, Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia, Alicia Keys, Taraji Henson, Common, Chris Pine

A disappointing and surprisingly bad film considering such an all-star cast, and the only real reason to watch it is to see Alicia Keys (!) as a gun-wielding assassin. She is utterly spellbinding, and my mind reels trying to contemplate how that casting decision took place. Buddy "Aces" Israel (slimy Jeremy Piven) is a Las Vegas entertainer with mob connections who decides to turn over information in exchange for FBI protection. Unfortunately for him, there's a one million dollar bounty on his head, and every hitman that has a chance at getting him is on the move. FBI agents Messner (Ryan Reynolds) and Carruthers (Ray Liotta) are assigned to extract him and escort him to safety, but things go terribly, terribly wrong...

The story is primarily about Reynolds' character. He's a good guy with integrity and real emotions, and the events that unfold utterly destroy him. Reynolds handles the role well and it's hard not to like him, but for me, it was all about Georgia Sykes (Alicia Keys) and her sniper gal-pal Sharice (Taraji Henson). They make an awesome team and are the only sane and rational killers in the bunch. Apart from them and Messner, the only other likable character is Buddy's personal bodyguard, Ivy (charismatic rapper Common). Everyone else in the film is just unpleasant. While the writing is immature and undisciplined, I applaud Joe Carnahan for at least giving Georgia and Ivy semi-happy endings.

The film is competently made and the gunfights are exciting and well executed. Unfortunately, where the film falls apart is in its outlandishness, and it tries to push the envelope into the absurd just a little too hard. The ultra-violence and inane banter is firmly in the mold of Quentin Tarantino, which in anyone else's hands is a very bad thing. As such, the endless stream of banal dialog deflates any sense of tension, emotion, and realism that the film tries to establish. Why don't these people just shut the hell up? Films like this need less talking and more shooting. It's the action that carries the emotional weight, not the dialog. Overall, "Smokin' Aces" works on some level as a collection of nicely staged set pieces, but ultimately comes across as shallow and disappointing.