Monday, April 3, 2017

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: Smoking' Aces (Joe Carnahan, 2006)


I remember seeing the poster for this movie around Christmas, 2006. I don't remember if it came out in New Zealand, but I didn't get to see it until it was on home video.

The premise is simple. A dying drug kingpin has taken out a hit on upstart wiseguy Buddy 'Aces'  Israel (Jeremy Piven), which leads to a mad scramble as various parties move in to either kill or protect him.

Boy does this movie go downhill. When it starts, it's basically the movie you thought you were getting: an r-rated version of It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World. But then in the third act, it takes a sudden shift into straight drama and all the excitement dies away -- it's like two-thirds Tarantino, one-third mawkish bullshit.

The tonal shift is all wrong, and the message of making sacrifices count feels completely unearned.


The best part of the movie is Taraji P. Henson. I remember seeing the poster and zooming in Alicia Keys, but in watching the movie all I could focus on was Henson. One half of a pair of female assassins sent after Aces, she plays Sharice Watters. An outspoken lesbian feminist with an eye on her colleague Georgia Sykes (Keys), Sharice lives in hope that her friend will finally see the light. She's basically Duckie (Pretty in Pink)  with a 50 calibre.

Henson is great in almost everything I've seen her in, and she carries her small part of the movie like a pro. I still have no idea if Alicia Keys can act, but with Henson doing the heavy lifting, it doesn't matter. It's too bad Henson is not in the movie more -- Watters is a far more sympathetic character than most of the ensemble cast.

In fact, anchoring the movie around Watters and Sykes would have probably been a better vehicle for getting at that dramatic meat that Carnahan tries to force down our throats. Ultimately, Smokin' Aces is a misfire. It has its moments, but it is like a puzzle missing a few pieces -- it does not add up.

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