A review of “Smokin' Aces” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: **

Rating: R for excessive violence, nudity and language

Run Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes



Jeremy Piven rides high as the quintessential bad boy of “Entourage” but can’t quite salvage this star-packed, blood-soaked copycat of a thriller.

Director Joe Carnahan borrows liberally from a wrung-out genre to craft a nefarious tale of corruption and greed in Nevada’s high-rolling desert sun. At its core is Vegas showboat Buddy “Aces” Israel (Piven) who has taken his illusionist act on the road and wormed his way into some shady mob connections that have any number of federal agencies secretly investigating his activities.

The inquiries sputter when a hit is put out on Buddy with a $1 million price-tag on his head. Which brings every Tom, Dick and Harry to Nevada for a piece of the action along with itchy feds who want to snag their key mob witness before he bites the big one.

Ex-cops, bounty hunters, a pair of kittenish hit-women and European assassins are all gunning for Buddy, holed up in the slick penthouse suite of a swanky Lake Tahoe hotel in a post-coital cloud of cocaine and regret.

Carnahan treads familiar ground here; his “Narc” was a tetchy high-octane thriller and one of my favorite films of 2003. “Aces” is of the rip-off genre; an homage to a litany of bigger and better morally neglectful pics (“Ocean’s Eleven”, “True Romance”, “Pulp Fiction”, etc. etc.) that never quite tracks its own groove.

That said “Aces” gives good attitude – packed with personality and a slapdash rock-and-roll mayhem. The cast is a glittery who’s-who of Hollywood, ranging from celluloid veterans Ray Liotta and Andy Garcia to newbie screen celebs like soulful crooner Alicia Keyes. Cameos take the cake – Jason Bateman as a strung out foil, Ben Affleck as a sly ex-cop who wants in on the dough.

Piven plays it with Sinatra-like sleaze, perfectly convincing as a showy player who takes excess to the max. The carnage is unfortunately gratuitous, ruthlessly over-the-top even for this guts-and-glory junkie.

Zany energy and narrative spunk ultimately tapers off to a series of slick but silly plot devices that drag the action over the finish line with a resounding and disappointing thud.