If my long association with film has taught me anything, it’s that if you swindle and snitch on the Mob, they will come after you all guns blazing. And such is the case when Aces Israel (Jeremy Piven) goes a step too far and becomes an informant for the FBI. Holed up in protective custody he is then targeted by a large number of contract assassins and other ne’er do wells who are intent on permanently taking him out of the equation. Meanwhile cops Richard Messner (Ryan Reynolds) and Donald Carruthers (Ray Liotta) are trying to keep Israel alive throughout all the ensuing madness.
I would argue that the script’s approach isn’t suitable for telling this story. It jumps around as if it’s an Ocean’s Eleven style caper, when it is demonstrably nothing of the sort. Instead it’s a mostly vacuous piece of action cinema, one that thinks it’s making a Big Point about something or other but in actual fact is trying to be much cleverer than the reality of the situation.
What it does have is a ridiculously long cast list of established or soon to be established star names. Reynolds, Liotta, Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia and Jeremy Piven head up an equally extensive supporting lineup. The likes of Joel Edgerton, Chris Pine, Common, Nestor Carbonell, Matthew Fox (supporting an impressive moustache and head of hair), Kevin Durand, Jason Bateman, Taraji P Henson and Alicia Keys all contribute a little something to the increasingly hectic plot and character list.
The various twists and turns are interesting in and of themselves, but they amount to nothing of consequence. There are plenty of solid individual scenes throughout, some decent direction and action combine to make for the occasionally thrilling set piece.
But then these moments are counterbalanced by some downright silly moments that almost spoil the fun. When a sniper starts shooting the hotel from a great distance, the cops all start shooting their own guns at where they perceive the sniper to be. The problem is, their guns have a far shorter range than the sniper rifle, and in the end it’s little more than lots of men shooting angrily out of a window at a target they’re never going to hit.
Then there are the Tremor brothers, three completely insane and off the wall neo-Nazi killers who are possibly the highlight of the film. They don’t play by anybody’s rules and have a very distinct counterculture style to how they work.
The best approach to take is that this is a whimsical interpretation on the action genre, one where you actively switch off your brain in order to enjoy it for the sake of pure entertainment. It shares some DNA with Commando in that respect, although that film has a far superior hold on its silliness than Smokin’ Aces.
Of course, the main difference between the two is that Smokin’ Aces has a terribly convoluted narrative that could potentially take its audience completely out of events as they try to figure out who is who. Not a glowing recommendation by any means, but if you’re stuck for something to watch and you’re craving a sort-of action thriller vibe, then this will do the trick.