Sunday, January 28, 2007

Character, or lack thereof, in "Smokin' Aces"

Sometimes I just don't know what to make of a movie. This even happens occasionally to movies made by writers and directors that I like and admire. Smokin' Aces is one such movie.

The concept sounds like a straight-forward pitch: An eclectic group of hitmen descend on a hotel to kill a witness for the FBI and possibly each other. All of the elements are there for what should be a great action flick. Just shake and bake. The concept will lead you the rest of the way through the movie.

The only thing that could really mess this up is if someone starts over thinking the concept. Guess what happened?

Maybe the concept was too straightforward for writer and director Joe Carnahan. His previous movie, Narc, was a great cop film that was able to balance story and tone. Perhaps he felt to hemmed in by his first movie, which was made small on an independent movie budget. Maybe that's why he was tempted to introduce pages and pages of backstory weaving a dizzying tale of undercover FBI agents and mob kingpins going back sixty years before we ever see a hitman. Maybe that's why the tone of the movie inexplicably shifts between perverse dark comedy to action mayhem to serious drama and then to romantic comedy just for the hell of it in a bat of an eye. Maybe he had to introduce as many characters as possible in as many ridiculous, clich├ęd situations to get rid of that Hollywood itch.

Maybe he just doesn't know what the hell he's doing.

What I know is that I left the theater confused. Confused not because the story was intricate or because I missed something in the film. I absorbed everything that the film had to offer, I am pretty sure. No, what left me confused is the thought that somehow someone thought that this movie made sense to make this way. What's more someone bankrolled this movie. My brain hurts at these thoughts.

The movie features a great cast, a cast that it doesn't deserve. Ray Liotta , Ryan Reynolds, Jason Bateman, Andy Garcia, Jeremy Piven, and Alecia Keys all give great performances with what they are given. Alecia Keys particularly stuns in her first movie. She is able to deliver ridiculous dialogue convincingly and looks comfortable with whatever is going on around her. She is also stunning because of how gorgeous she looks throughout most of the movie. With her sitting behind the piano you just don't get the full idea how good looking she is, you will if you see this movie.

You may notice that I'm not spending too much time on the plot. That's because the plot is not taken seriously by the movie and is so involved that it is not worth exploring. The movie's last shot, supposed to be a gut punch, falls flat because, well, who really cares? The movie doesn't. Something tells me that the characters don't. Ultimately neither does the audience.

You know I would have been happy if this movie had been one of the "Super Action" films ala Commando or Rambo because then it would have been interesting and coherent on at least some level. This movie tries to stick its finger in all of the porridges and ends up not getting the taste of any of them. It wears me down just thinking about it. Save yourself the trouble. Don't go.

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