© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
L to R: Ryan Reynolds as Richard and Brian Bloom as
Agent Baker in

© 2007 Universal Pictures

I see from what other reviewers are saying that
I'm not the only one who was reminded of both

Guy Ritchie's first film
and just about anything
written or directed by Quentin Tarantino while
SMOKIN' ACES, the hyper-kinetic
feature film from writer-director Joe Carnahan.
This movie hearkens back to his debut feature,
in its style and execution and lacks some of the
more subtler touches he displayed with
his little-seen brutally violent 2002 drama.

The latter film offered a juicy role for Ray Liotta,
so it's perhaps no surprise to find the actor
among the large cast of
SMOKIN' ACES. In fact,
the movie opens with Liotta and Ryan Reynolds
playing FBI agents Carruthers and Messner. They
are on a stakeout, eavesdropping on the home of
elderly and sickly mobster Primo Sperraza
(Joseph Ruskin) -- the last of the most powerful
member of "La Cosa Nostra" we have been told
in the opening scroll. Carruthers and Messner
overhear one of the gangster's henchmen (Alex
Rocco) hatching a plot involving one Buddy
"Aces" Israel (Jeremy Piven), a Las Vegas
entertainer with ties to Sperraza and who has
recently turned state's evidence. The agents
soon realize that there's a $1 million bounty on
Israel's head.

As such, several teams of hired assassins are
out to get Israel, including three tattooed,
punkish brothers (Chris Pine, Kevin Durand and
Maury Sterling), a pair of African American
women (Taraji P. Henson and singer Alicia Keys
in her feature film debut) and an international
hitman (Nestor Carbonell). There's also a trio of
bounty hunters (Ben Affleck, Peter Berg and
Martin Henderson) out for the reward. All of them
are heading for a hotel in Lake Tahoe, where
"Aces" Israel has taken refuge.

SMOKIN' ACES requires that the audience pay
close attention to what's going on since there's
so much happening and so many characters to
follow. Carnahan doesn't help matters, though,
with a sound design that includes overlapping
dialogue and loud music. But the gist of the
outline of the story can be gleaned and one can
sit back and try to enjoy the ride.

The movie is staged in a sort of frenzied,
hellzapoppin' style -- much like Guy Ritchie's
early films. Like both Ritchie and Tarantino, the
dialogue he has written is full of slang. Carnahan
does show a flair for staging some spectacular
sequences, and he does manage to get some
good performances out of his large, colorful cast.
The standout is Reynolds who shows he's
capable of carrying a more dramatic piece,
although he does flash some of his comic timing.
Liotta does an okay job in an underwritten part.
Andy Garcia is on hand as a high ranking FBI
agent and there are some intriguing
performances by Joel Edgerton, hip-hop singer
Common (né Lonnie Rashid Lynn), Curtis
Armstrong and Jason Bateman.

One of the big plot twists was telegraphed
pretty early in the film, and I had figured it out
long before it was spelled out. But Carnahan
added a twist upon that twist, and it was one I
hadn't seen coming.

SMOKIN' ACES is a passable ride of
film. It's not great art or great cinema but it
does entertain, much in the same way that a
cartoon like Road Runner does.

Rating:            C+
MPAA Rating:   R for strong bloody
                   violence, pervasive
                   language, some nudity
                   and drug use
Running time:   108 mins.