Spin-off 'Aces'

Alicia Keys is ready to serve someone a lead salad as a hitwoman in Smokin’ Aces.
Smokin’ Aces
Dir. and writ. Joe Carnahan; feat. Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven, Andy Garcia, Alicia Keys, Ben Affleck, Peter Berg, Common, Jason Bateman (R)
It’s easy to blame Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction for spawning a few dozen knockoffs that pretty much made the ’90s movie-going experience a rather predictable one by the end of it all. Joe Carnahan directed one of these counterfeits in 1999, called Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane, and since it cost all of $8,000 and, you know, didn’t entirely suck, people assumed at the time that Carnahan could actually direct. Sure, he had a flair for Tarantino’s frenetic style of storytelling, but beyond that, let’s just say he had promise. He really needed to be tested again, and that’s what police drama Narc proved in 2002 — turns out the guy can actually direct.

Five years later and, voila, Carnahan’s next feature rolls around; Smokin’ Aces is filled with hot hit-lesbians (instead of men, how novel), bullet-riddled bodies (including Ben Affleck’s, about time), machete-wielding Southerners (OK, these guys are cool), and a coked-up, magician/mob boss called Buddy “Aces” Israel (played by Jeremy Piven, who apparently can do no wrong these days). It’s yet another Tarantino imposter, more than a decade after Tarantino blew up, and somehow it still hasn’t lost any of the fun that Tarantino’s wannabes, for better or worse, tend to deliver. It’s true, Tarantino has become cliché, but the conventions he spawned are too cool to ignore: Go; Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels; 2 Days in the Valley … the list goes on and on. It’s kind of why horror never goes out of style, too (fans love it, critics hate it), except Tarantino created his own genre. The guy might be a douchebag egomaniac, but he deserves an award for it.

Or at least a thank-you card every Christmas from guys like Carnahan.

Pulp Fiction 42, sorry, Smokin’ Aces — a crime thriller about almost a dozen hitmen and bail bondsman trying to collect a bounty on Israel (who is about to turn snitch) — does stand apart. It ain’t just about character interaction, velocity of narration, or cluster-fuck endings — or the bazillion stars that appear in it (Piven, Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta, Alicia Keys, Andy Garcia, Jason Bateman, Matthew Fox). Carnahan actually tries to imbue his movie with a message, albeit it one that doesn’t really come until the last five minutes. At that point, all the bloodshed and gore (there are, as mentioned, machetes, but also chainsaws and rifles that punch holes through brick walls) has pretty much left the viewer so numb that discovering just what that message is, as shocking as it is, as powerful as it is, is a bit of an uncomfortable surprise. Then again, perhaps that was Carnahan’s intent: to craft a movie so preposterous, loud, and violent that, upon discovering your enjoyment and, let’s face it, bloodlust, come to find it was a all a metaphor for your apathy about a certain war. You couldn’t help but feel angry, maybe cheated by the director, for being made to think. The nerve of that guy … 

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