SPOILER ALERT !!
Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here.
Carnahan fans have been waiting a while now for his follow-up to NARC, and it seems crazy that it’s almost here.
If you’re a fan, you might want to hop over to CHUD, where Devin Faraci has been fielding questions that Carnahan’s been answering on his very own blog.
In the meantime, let’s see what our own Vern has to say about this film that I’m eagerly looking forward to:
You know what this movie is, it’s a remake of BOBBY. Almost the whole movie takes place in and around this hotel. And you got your huge all-star cast of characters with their various intersecting stories going on. But instead of them all living their lives and making corny speeches not knowing Bobby Kennedy is about to be assassinated, they are all trying to sneak into the hotel to kill Jeremy Piven. And instead of tons of stock footage of Kennedy speeches there is all kinds of fighting and guns. So it’s a reflection of our times. Or a very loose remake. A reimagining.
Let me give a little background so you can compare notes. I was hoping to like this movie, but not predisposed to it. Joe Carnahan wrote and directed, and I’m not a member of the cult of Carnahan yet. I liked NARC okay but to be frankly honest I didn’t understand why everybody made such a big deal about it. I thought the trailer for this one looked insane in a good way, but usually hate these hyperactive showoffy everybody-look-at-me type approaches to filmatism. There was clearly a higher than usual probability of Guy Ritchieness. Or CRANKitude. Or, gulp, DOMINOism. Going in I felt like there was a good chance I would love it and an equal or greater chance that I would want to kill it.
The opening scene has FBI agents Ray Liotta (why the fuck did they cancel SMITH?) and Ryan Reynolds (why the fuck did they cancel BLADE?) in a van staking out an old mafia dude. The dialogue and acting is somewhat naturalistic, the camera is handheld (director code for “gritty crime story and/or police procedural”). It seems serious. But then some giant fonts come on telling us the characters’ names and occupations.
Bad sign, right? Maybe even a dealbreaker, tying to pull that TRAINSPOTTING shit at this late date. But here’s the thing: it’s not a freeze frame. They write the names on the screen BUT THEY DON’T FREEZE THE FRAME! No avid farts either. And they hold the shots for a reasonable amount of time. I don’t think I ever saw this combination of styles before. The editing in this movie does not necessarily appear to have been done under the influence of pixie sticks, it serves the story well. As soon as I realized they had written the names on the screen without freezing, I was sold on the movie. It got me.
Then when they introduced the other characters they freeze framed on all of them. God damn it. But that’s the way things go these days.
SMOKIN’ ACES is a big fuckin mess, but mostly on purpose. The plot for the most part is this: Jeremy Piven plays a mafia-connected Vegas magician named Buddy “Aces” Israel, whose lawyer played by Booger (RAY) is currently putting together a deal for him to turn state’s evidence. The mobster he’s turned on has apparently put a million dollar bounty on Israel, so we follow various hitmen and women who are trying to kill him as well as these two agents trying to bust the mob.
That part I liked. There is also a whole mess of overly complicated backstory and ending revelation nonsense. It’s as convoluted as Steven Seagal’s recent DTV works and explained in big awkward chunks of dialogue, SILENT HILL style. To be honest I was too stupid to follow all of it but I bet if I understood it I would still be against it.
The cast includes (but is not limited to) Andy Garcia as the FBI chief, Common (from the Gap ads) as some guy who works for Piven, the singer Alicia Keys as a hitwoman, Taraji “I dropped the P now” Henson (HUSTLE & FLOW) as her feminist partner, Jason Bateman (TW2) as a hilariously cold-sored loser lawyer, Peter Berg as some guy, Martin Henderson from TORQUE, etc. The whole cast is good with the one exception being Ben Affleck as a bail bondsman who stresses his Boston accent and dresses kind of the way Andrew Dice Clay does now, with a big hat and everything. Honestly I got nothing against Affleck, he is a charming guy and whatever but he is just not convincing as a tough guy (I mean seriously, a bail bondsman?) and his persona is not one you can accept in this role. It’s laughable. But…
If you are already planning on seeing this movie then skip this paragraph because it’s gonna SPOILER all over the best scene in the movie. If you are planning to skip it you can keep reading because I’m gonna bring out the big guns. See, Affleck brings together a couple guys who are gonna make a play for this bounty on Piven. He makes a bunch of tough guy speeches that explain all the backstory and what not. He meets with a lawyer. He comes up with a plan for sneaking into the hotel where Piven is hiding out. In a parking lot, he opens up his hatchback to show his guys the uniforms he rented, exactly like the ones the hotel security wear. Okay, so here’s how it’s gonna go down, he starts explaining. While he’s going through it, an El Camino drives past them, blaring Motorhead or some shit. He ignores it, but then the El Camino starts to back up, so the music gets louder, completely drowning him out. It seems like a movie joke, he keeps telling his plan but we don’t hear it because it’s drowned out by the music. But then machine guns fire out of the windows and fill Affleck and his two accomplices full of holes. The savages responsible are the Tremor brothers, who look and act like they stepped out of ROAD WARRIOR into this movie by accident. After killing these three, one of them takes a sharpie and marks three hatches on his lip, both a body count and a Hitler mustache. He also carves it into the roof of his car for posterity. Then two of the Tremor brothers wrestle each other like pitbulls while the other one plays with Ben Affleck’s corpse, making him mouth that he forgives them and will see them in Heaven. It is one of those rare scenes where for a couple minutes straight you can’t help but think, “Holy shit, am I really sitting in a theater watching this?” Even if you don’t like the movie overall, you gotta admit that this scene is an instant classic. It’s like Samuel L. Jackson’s famous death scene in DEEP BLUE SEA except that this is Affleck, you WANT him to die early and you can’t believe you got so lucky. By the way, thank you for reading this paragraph, those other guys who didn’t read it are a bunch of sissies. Fuck those guys.
Hello again, friend. If you are just joining us from non-spoilerland, you missed my explanation of my favorite characters in the movie, the Tremor Brothers. Since the ’90s there have been alot of horrible movies trying to depict cool hitmen. They have tried alot of different ways (usually involving skinny ties and references to pop culture) but I don’t think anybody has done hitmen who appear to believe they live in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Until now. These dirty beasts wear goggles, pads, chains, no shirts, they have obscene tattoos, they carry flares and chainsaws, they roar much more than they talk. We hear that they are redneck neo-nazis, but the way they act they might as well be completely free of politics or knowledge of human systems, neanderthals given access to automatic weapon technology millions of years ahead of schedule. Any time they were on screen I couldn’t stop laughing, and after their great scene that you didn’t read about in that last paragraph there was no way I could completely turn against the movie, even when it wasn’t working.
But more often than not it does work. Everybody gets good bits. Taraji Henson has a really funny rant about women she considers skanks. Jason Bateman is only in about two scenes, but gets the biggest non-Tremor laughs of the movie. He sounds like he was up all night yelling and I don’t believe he ever wears pants in the movie. Piven gets so sweaty and coked up that it makes your heart beat fast just looking at him. There is some funny shit about the rock star lifestyle of a magician. His number two guy almost seems like they cast the real life road manager to some rock band or rapper.
Of course you got the usual problem of a movie like this, there are so many characters that nobody gets to do a full movie star’s amount of business. But because of the actors and to a lesser extent the script, they manage to endear some of these characters to you. I really liked Ray Liotta, Ryan Reynolds, and the pair of hitwomen, I was rooting for all of them to make it out okay. And I think Reynolds deserves special recognition, like maybe a ribbon or a pin or something. Because we all knew Liotta could play a role like this, but Reynolds (the closest thing to a lead in the movie) is still proving himself. I liked him in the not-as-good BLADE movie but here he mostly steps away from that smartass thing he’s so good at and pulls off more of a straight role. Way to go bud.
The movie gets real fuckin violent. Alot of people get shot. There is a huge shootout in a regular sized elevator. The gun sounds are more realistic than usual so it gets pretty tense. We are having fun, there is alot of humor and silly gimmicky characters, even a master of disguise. This is one of those movies where not only are the characters a bunch of arrogant pricks, but the movie itself seems to think it’s hot shit. And there are times here and there where that cockiness is not earned. For example, those freeze frames I mentioned earlier. You have to wonder who they think they’re impressing with that corny shit. What made them think that was gonna be hip in 2006? I mean, TRAINSPOTTING was ten years ago, dude. They did that on both OUT FOR A KILL and SUBMERGED, let’s retire it for a while. There is also one sped up driving scene with cheesy guitars and beats. It’s like an old man wearing an eyebrow ring.
But I think the thing that overcomes all this, that makes the movie work for me, is that when a character dies it’s sad. And sometimes it takes time. People sit next to dying people to comfort them, or worry that someone they care about has been shot in all this mayhem, try to find them to make sure they’re okay. It’s not just “ha ha, his head got blown off.” Even in this over-the-top, jokey story, Carnahan treats his characters as real and his violence as bad. This way the movie may be too cool but it avoids being too cool for school. It still goes to summer school at the very least.
But there is certainly enough in here to annoy many people, and you can’t deny that it has similarities to a LOCK STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS type movie and all the horrible shit that came after that one. I wouldn’t say it was very Tarantino because thankfully there is no dialogue that seems to be aping him. Maybe you could argue that the eclectic selection of music on the soundtrack is trying to be like him (although I wouldn’t have expected even Tarantino to put a Skull Snaps song in a movie).
On the surface maybe it’s like LOCK STOCK but I think its soul is more like WAY OF THE GUN. A movie that covers territory others have famously covered, but manages to put its own spin on it, depite being weighed down by its clumsy and unnecessary attempts at a complex narrative. I think WAY OF THE GUN is a very flawed movie but I still enjoy going back and watching it every once in a while. Only time will tell if SMOKIN’ ACES will have a similar future. But is it worth checking out if you like this sort of shit? Lord knows I checked it out, and did not regret the checking out of it. Therefore I must conclude that it was and will continue to be worth checking out.
Originally posted at Ain’t-It-Cool-News: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/30913