People often refer to certain types of movies as "guilty pleasures." That term has never sat well with me; the notion of feeling guilt for deriving pleasure from any film is ridiculous. If you think D.C. Cab is one of the funniest movies of all time—as I firmly do—there is no reason to feel guilt about it. "Guilty pleasure" is a moniker that should be used for things that are just plain wrong—like bestiality and necrophilia—that select people enjoy while the rest of society cringes in disapproval or disgust. For example, smoking crack could be considered a guilty pleasure, whereas liking the new film Smokin' Aces just means you've got a thing for violent pulp movies.
Jeremy Piven stars as Buddy "Aces" Israel, a washed-up Las Vegas performer who has gone missing after turning state's evidence against the Mafia. Aces' testimony promises to bring down a massive criminal empire, and so it comes as no surprise that a million-dollar price has been placed on his head. Now it's a race against time as a motley assortment of contract killers, bounty hunters and FBI agents all scramble to be the first to get to the drug-addled Aces, who is holed up in a Lake Tahoe resort surrounded by hookers, henchmen and a mountain of cocaine. For the killers, which include a deadly duo of femme fatales (Taraji Henson and Alicia Keys) and three chainsaw-wielding trailer-trash brothers, it means collecting the cold cash. For a trio of bounty hunters, led by Ben Affleck, there is the reward for finding Aces, who has skipped out on bail. And for the pair of FBI agents (Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta) charged with bringing Aces to court so he can testify, mission accomplished means dealing a devastating blow to the Mafia.
Written and directed by Joe Carnahan, whose impressive 2002 film Narc delivered a compelling, stylish crime thriller, Smokin' Aces is a no-holds-barred, rock-out-with-your-cock-out exercise in bombastic filmmaking. Carnahan's work betrays his steady consumption of Elmore Leonard and his freebasing of Jim Thompson, resulting in a turbocharged barrage of violence that plays out like Quentin Tarantino on a crystal-meth bender. Carnahan's clenched-jaw script provides opportunity for his ensemble cast to turn in some truly inspired work. Piven is great, as is rapper Common, but it is Jason Bateman who steals the film as Aces' deranged lawyer.
Delicately straddling the fine line between trash and art, Smokin' Aces never fails to entertain. And for those who feel no shame in enjoying flicks like the first Transporter, Carnahan delivers the sort of two-fisted magic that makes going to the movies fun.
Opens Friday, Jan. 26.