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REEL CRITIC:'Aces' is more like the joker

January 31, 2007

It would be complete hyperbole for me to say that "Smokin' Aces" is the worst movie ever made. However, I can unequivocally state that it's the worst movie I've ever seen. This is just a big mess and must have left studio executives wondering when they saw the final cut just how they could salvage and sell it. Perhaps its R rating stands for "Run!"

Problem No. 1 is that the extremely confusing and disjointed plot of several people gunning (literally) to rub out former magician and snitch Buddy "Aces" Israel (Jeremy Piven) takes too long to establish. There's an ex-cop-turned-bounty hunter (Ben Affleck), two professional hit women (Alicia Keys, Taraji Henson), a mercenary killer (Nestor Carbonell), and the three Tremor brothers, to name just some of them. In the words of one character, it's "a matter of who out-hustles who."

Buddy is a drug-addled sleazeball with no redeeming qualities, other than being handy with a deck of cards. The only reason he has any value is because he has lots of inside information about Primo Sparazza, a veteran Las Vegas mob boss who was Buddy's mentor. He's agreed to spill the beans to the FBI, which is covering Primo's house with heavy surveillance while intercepting phone calls.


Buddy is hiding out in a Reno hotel, which is where everyone ends up converging. Racing against all the bad guys are FBI field agents Carruthers (Ray Liotta) and Messner (Ryan Reynolds), working for Agent Locke (Andy Garcia).

When Buddy's show-business agent — lamely acting as his lawyer — brokers a deal with the feds that falls apart, Buddy is so desperate that he agrees to sacrifice his longtime protector, Ivy (rap musician Common).

The movie's opening — an attempt to emulate an old-fashioned police drama, complete with the stories designed to evoke a bygone era — falls flat. Nice try, but it doesn't fly. There are too many people involved and their background stories are not interesting enough for anyone to care.

Trying to waver between action thriller with comedy bits thrown in is another misfire. The characters of the Tremor brothers being backwater hicks are just ridiculous. In a few scenes as Darwin, the sensitive one, Chris Pine's attempts at subtle comedy are hindered by pathetic dialogue and improbably stupid premises. The same is true with another scene where a retired nurse and her hyperactive grandson help one of the surviving bounty hunters.

The only worthwhile part of the movie is one scene where Jason Bateman plays "Rip" Reed, the lawyer who hires the bounty hunters. With a prep-school background, which he readily acknowledges is totally out of place in the Vegas underworld, his drunken stupor is genuinely funny and well-acted, but is far from enough to redeem anything else. Even the surprise plot twist writer-director Joe Carnahan throws in at the end is pointless.

While trying to purchase tickets at the box office, the machine wouldn't accept two different credit cards I presented. If this was an attempt to prevent me from entering the theater, I wish I had recognized that sign from beyond.

  • PHILLIP HAIN is a Glendale resident who usually enjoys going to the movies, but not in this particular instance.

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