“We’re gonna go in, we’re gonna get this guy, and everyone’s gonna leave the theater grinning.”
Ahoy, assassins! Aidan here.
My early-teenage self was f**king stoked about this movie back in 2006.
I remember seeing the cardboard standup for Smokin’ Aces in my local multiplex while waiting in line for Casino Royale – it peaked my interest, but Casino Royale kicked my ass, and thus Smokin’ Aces was put on the mental backburner.
Weeks later, though, radio ads began popping up left and right. Rumors spread of an insane twist ending, and the then-little-known director of the film (Joe Carnahan) promised enough bullets, blood, and octane to make Robert Rodriguez blush.
The result? Well, my efforts to get someone to take me to see the film were unsuccessful.
But you best believe I caught that shit on home video. And you know what?
Smokin’ Aces simply kicked – and still kicks – all kinds of ass. Unapologetically, unpretentiously, and unrelentingly. It’s a glorious ride.
It opened to negative reviews from critics, and the studio had the foresight to predict this – they released Smokin’ Aces released in January, the equivalent of the Friday-night death slot for television. The flick was soon forgotten, banished to the aisle of misfit movies slapped together for 20-something-year-old guys to have on in the background over pizza and beer.
It’s so much more than that, though. I’m not going to hail the film as a masterpiece – I use that word deliberately, few and far between – but Smokin’ Aces is a gnarly little piece of cinema that should be recognized for its dogged ferociousness.
It’s insanely fun, knows what it wants to be, and nails the execution. This subgenre of film has a general limit of the quality it can achieve, and Smokin’ Aces tries its hardest minute after minute to blow through that barrier.
It’s way better than it has any right to be, and director Joe Carnahan (who went on to direct The A-Team and The Grey, two more films far better than they should have been) should be commended for his consistent effort to create and maintain something fresh, unique, and visceral.
Smokin’ Aces follows the carnage that ensues when a Las Vegas performer-turned-snitch named Buddy Israel decides to turn state’s evidence and testify against the mob. As he wastes away under protective custody in his Lake Tahoe penthouse suite, a rogues’ gallery of assassins from around the world gear up to collect the mafia’s $1 million bounty on his head.
Director Joe Carnahan has a true eye for intense movement – the film moves and moves, sweeping you along and kicking your ass but never feeling overwhelming or breathless. The entire story takes place in a span of about twelve hours, and you feel like you’re truly along for the ride as these five or so parties attempt to whack this scumbag Israel. And boy, is he an asshole. But we’ll get to that later.
Every supersaturated, blood-soaked frame of Smokin’ Aces is an crazed taste of ultraviolent pop cinema. The movie’s self-recognition of its grindhouse roots elevates it from the slums of its lesser peers – namely turds like the Transporter films.
Smokin’ Aces introduced Alicia Keys to the acting world in a strange role that she makes even stranger by genuinely shining and delivering a memorable performance; also introduced in this film is Common, who’s gone on to do more acting work with the likes of Ridley Scott.
The movie also showcases a powerful Jeremy Piven in rare form, playing Buddy Israel’s cocaine-fueled douchebaggery to a tee. Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia, and more shine in their respective supporting roles and the aforementioned plot twist just makes the experience more fun.
And with a movie filled to the brim with sociopathic Neo-Nazi sociopathic brothers, a pair of lesbian assassins, and a one-eyed boy who’s had too much nunchuck training and not enough Ritalin – how can you go wrong?
Sounds bizarre. Is bizarre. Works. Trust me.
See you next week with another installment of Movies That Deserve More Love!
Until then… “Bitch, I’m ’bout to ball this.”