Wednesday, January 31, 2007

REVIEW: Smokin' Aces

The first thing one needs to process about Joe Carnahan's "Smokin' Aces" is that it's not as good as Carnahan's last movie, "Narc," but that that's okay because most movies aren't as good as "Narc." The second thing is that, yes, "Smokin' Aces" is 100% a Guy Ritchie angry-toughguy-all-about-the-'tude crime shoot `em up, only with sloshy London Grime swapped for sun-burned Vegas Kitsch (despite technically taking place mostly in Lake Tahoe)... but that there's also really nothing wrong with that.

For a change, here's a movie thats being 100% honest about it's intent and reason for being. It's trailers say: "Look at me! I'm an angry, superviolent, pissed-off-at-the-world-little-boy-except-I'm-nearing-3o faux-macho crime movie! You want outlandish hitmen? 'cool' leading men with personality-identifying facial hair? Female characters who're either hookers, fetishized-lesbians or fetishized-lesbian hookers? Buckets o' blood? Deliberately-labyrinthine "Usual Suspects"-esque pretzel-plotting? Memorization-ready Mafia "tuff-talk" dialogue? Come and get it!!" It's a slickly-made B-movie, it's pure genre, it's exploitation, it's a big brawny bear-hug to the subcultures of movie-geekdom that worship at the altar of "Boondock Saints" and "True Romance," yes... and it's glorious in how comfortably and unashamedly it occupies it's own skin like some aged-yet-contented professional roadie occupying a vintage "Kiss Army" tank-top.

The film is made, at least as at the skeleton, of simple elements: A collection of unique, outrageous characters - all of whom are heavily-armed, a reason for them to start emptying ammunition at one-another, and a location for them to do so. In a nutshell: Vegas lounge-fixture and wannabe mobster Buddy "Aces" Israel is holed-up in a Lake Tahoe penthouse, binging on booze, drugs and hookers before turning State's Evidence with, we're told, enough connections and secrets to bring down what's left of The Mob. Two FBI agents (Ray Liotta, Ryan Reynolds) are on the way to collect him, a sleazy bail bondsman (Ben Affleck) and his crew are looking to get there first for a whole other reason, and so are several different contingents of contract-killers hot for the million dollar bounty the mob apparently has on Israel's head.

Alongside the tuff-talk and random comic-dialogue digressions, the arrangement of hired-gun characters make up the bulk of "why the movie was made." It almost seems as though Carnahan is attempting a "Kill Bill"-style collection of disparate genre fixture: The pair of witty, bantering female stealth-snipers (one played by an action-debuting Alicia Keyes, and lemme say "holy shit!" for the record) come off like side-characters from "Sin City." A Latin American super-suave minimalist seems to have migrated from the world of "007." The neo-nazi Tremor Brothers show up costumed for a "Mad Max" knockoff and employ chainsaws, road-flares and axes in their arsenal. A no-nonsense master of latext-makeup disguise reminded me so much of perennial Spider-Man adversary The Chameleon that I had to keep reminding myself not to call him that. (The vampire, the ninjas and the trained razor-wielding gorilla, presumably, got stuck at the bus station.)

Basically, all of these people converge on Israel's hotel and eventually open-fire on one another for the duration of the 2nd and 3rd acts. Some live, some die, loyalties shift, secrets are revealed, twists reveal more twists, and eventual it all makes a certain kind of sense in a maximum-plot/minimum-story sort of way. Appraisal isn't really complicated in these cases: You either enjoy the spectacle of good actors having fun speaking craftier-than-necessary dialogue while blasting the shit out of eachother, having drug-induced breakdowns or dragging the post-"Swingers" ironic-Rat-Pack-appreciation schtick around the track for another lap.. or you don't. This time out, I dug it once again.