Smokin' Aces Joe Carnahan

Smokin' Aces Joe Carnahan
It’s not long, a mere number of minutes actually, after they finish introducing all of the characters in Joe Carnahan’s (director of Narc) latest film that several characters — played by famous actors that you’d otherwise expect to be critical to the plot — are murdered quickly and brutally. From that point on, you know that not a single character is safe.

Smokin’ Aces plays out like an adaptation of a Vertigo graphic novel that never was, with an uneasy mix of action, comedy, pathos and balls out weirdness that’s wrapped in such a heavy layer of constant tension that at points it’s difficult to catch your breath. That it manages to keep you on the edge of your seat is more a testament to Clint Mansell’s powerful score and some brilliant performances than it is to the plot, in which idiosyncratic hit men face off against each other and the F.B.I. to be the first to capture Buddy "Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven).

Standout performances include the fantastic Jason Bateman as a hilariously sleazy lawyer and, surprisingly, Just My Luck love interest Chris Pine is nearly unrecognisable as a psychopathic redneck; he brings an air of deranged menace to the role. The plot is lumpen with lengthy exposition, the odd plot hole and a lack of character development, and eventually (if slowly) drives to a conclusion filled with twists that are either clever or dumb (I just can’t tell). The film is, however, at least unflinching in its portrayal of violence and its psychological impact.

As tense and enjoyable as it is, with so much exposition that would clearly flow better on the page, Smokin’ Aces would have worked better as a graphic novel.

(Universal)