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Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2007 04:09 am

Nothing but “characters”

Smokin' Aces is a teen boy's fantasy come true

Smokin’ Aces Running time 1:48 Rated R ShowPlace West
Untitled Document Yep, Joe Carnahan’s Smokin’ Aces is a teen boy’s fantasy come to life. Every character has a signature line or action; every problem is solved with a kick, jab, or gun blast. In short, Aces is hardly a revolutionary film. Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven, at his most irritating) is a lounge-lizard magician who was once in tight with the mob. Now he threatens to turn state’s evidence unless Primo Sparazza (Joseph Ruskin), the local kingpin, gives him a piece of the action. Instead, Primo decides to off Israel, offering up a $1 million bounty. This, of course, brings out a rogue’s gallery of killers and ne’er-do-wells, each vying for Israel’s head and all of them getting in each other’s way as they do so. Caught in the middle of all of this are three FBI agents (Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta, and Andy Garcia), who are assigned to protect Israel so that his testimony can be used to bring down Sparazza. Perhaps the biggest problem with the film is that no one’s playing a real person. This universe is populated by nothing but “characters,” each of them with as much depth as a puddle. The killers who assemble are nothing more than a group of tired archetypes who clutter the screen with predictable gags. A trio consisting of two ex-cops and a bail bondsman (Peter Berg, Martin Henderson, and Ben Affleck) bear a resemblance to real folks, but a duo of sleazy female assassins, played by Alicia Keys and Taraji P. Henson, come off as Sin City rejects. Throw in a Nazi trio known as the Tremors, a brilliant makeup man (Tommy Flanagan), and a psychotic torturer named Acosta (Nestor Carbonell), and we’re left with a mishmash of action figures who’ve unfortunately escaped from their plastic-and-cardboard holding cells. As one would expect, once the millionth bullet has been expended and you’re wondering whether anyone in the film can still hear, there’s the requisite twist ending that explains just what all the fuss over Israel is all about. I, for one, could not have cared less whether there was an ulterior motive to the mayhem or whether all of the pieces fit together. Having been assailed by Carnahan’s sledgehammer approach, all I wanted to do was flee to a nice coffee shop where soothing tunes fill the air and real people communicate with words, not weapons.
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