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Broken Premises

Smokin’ Aces

Ben Affleck, Ray Liotta, and Alicia Keyes star in a film
written and directed by Joe Carnahan.

Reviewed by D.J. Palladino

Alicia%20Keys.jpgJoe 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.

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