For early in the new year, Smokin' Aces proves to be a worthy gangster romp with a rich, predominant male cast.
It may be more appealing than something like Lucky Number Slevin, though convoluted for outrageous effect with energy and visceral edge to burn.
The title refers to Jeremy Piven's Buddy, known as "Aces", a Las Vegas magician becoming a so-called mafioso hotshot.
Enjoying his plush Lake Tahoe hotel suite replete with amenities like drugs and call girls, Buddy won't be reveling or complacent by any means.
He'll have to deal with bounty hunters played by Peter Berg, Martin Henderson, and Ben Affleck, very good in Hollywoodland. Government agents are after him also with Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia, and Ryan Reynolds filling those roles, besides other sleazy assassin types. There are even two hit-women on the trail, played by Alicia Keys and Taraji P. Henson. What happens when it all comes to a boil? It's much more than double-crossing that will leave some heads spinning.
The director here is Joe Carnahan, remembered for his gritty, bleached-out Narc, which also featured Liotta. He snatches up the alert viewer with a quick-cutting stylishness after opening up a Pandora's box of plot and players. The violent nature of this ebullient thriller helps one to keep better track of it all as unanticipated snags will occur before the conflagration happens at Tahoe.
Perhaps so much information is on hand to disguise what hardly is thoughtful or really useful, though moments of emotion can be unexpectant. The action features bursts of carnage and lurid, vicious confrontations that Carnahan is good at resonating. But, it all unfolds with moxie that's kind of gratifying as the escalating chaos has to conceivably become more enthalpic.
In this wild, somewhat deranged ride Piven is quite watchable, even when Buddy may be a bit over-the-top, to say the least. Reynolds's dogged agent will have more appeal similar to his turn in Blade: Trinity, and Jason Bateman is surprisingly wry as an unhinged bail bondsman. Henson has her moments as a sensitive sniper.
Smokin' Aces is indulgent and gruesome at times, but is nutty, overwrought popcorn entertainment that makes us laugh more than it should.