Ben Affleck, Ray Liotta, and Alicia Keyes star in a film written and directed by Joe Carnahan.
Reviewed by D.J. Palladino
Joe Carnahan’s 2002 film Narc seemed promising. The genre film was filled with luxuriantly grim details, though a host of my film studies pals insisted that it was clichéd. If Smokin’ Aces can be taken as the further measure of Carnahan’s moviemaking prowess, I’m sorry to admit we were all correct. He is a thief of form, and here he’s bouncing off a wave of recent British crime films, for which Guy Ritchie gets most credit (though he’s clearly bested by Matthew Vaughn’s immensely satisfying Layer Cake).
Swift-paced narrative, hosts of characters introduced and then fleshed out (sometimes flushed out), and heavy hints of violence followed by heavy violence: All these describe both the Britpulp film and Carnahan’s Aces, an over-complicated movie about a million-dollar hit ordered by the moribund Mafia in conflict with a morally feeble FBI. All manner of ultra cliché death ensues. The only thing worse would be some Nazis.
But wait, there are Nazis. Well, at least there are caricatured punk hit men who idolize Der Führer . And yet these comical thugs — aside from a bafflingly gratuitous, Ritalined-out kung fu kid with a bandage over his eye — are the only terribly stupid moves among a host of B-picture heavies.
But a lot of the details here are mesmerizing, including Nestor Carbonell’s unguent performance as a philosophically sadistic killer and Alicia Keyes and her really big gun. And, finally, there are those punk Nazis and the Ritalin kid. The worst parts are paradoxically the best.
All in all, I wouldn’t say this was a potential cult film, though the theater was full of young people. Youth won’t be fooled by a mere equation — Ocean’s Eleven times Lock, Stock, and Barrel divided by Tarantino. With Andy Garcia’s bad acting and a plot that makes less sense than a Marvel Superhero origin, Aces has a shot at achieving camp status as a bad cliché with lots of surreal glories. I guess that’s what we call contemporary Hollywood.