When you love pulpy, bullet-ridden stories as much as Joe Carnahan apparently does, a film like “Smokin’ Aces” is the natural expression of that love. It’s loud, funny, and intentionally overdone, a bloody crime caper that feels like the offspring of “Reservoir Dogs,” “Ocean’s Eleven,” and last year’s “Running Scared.”
The smokin’ ace of the title is Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven), a successful Las Vegas magician and showman who, like so many of his ilk, got to be pals with mobsters and became a sort of court jester for the goodfellas. His affection for the Mafia led him to commit some crimes of his own, and now to avoid prosecution he’s considering making a deal with the FBI in which he’ll name names and bring down most of organized crime.
Primo Sparazza (Joseph Ruskin), the aging and sickly godfather, doesn’t want that to happen, obviously, and he’s put out a hit on Israel, offering a million dollars for his death and his heart as a trophy. Our heroes, FBI agents Carruthers (Ray Liotta) and Messner (Ryan Reynolds), are tasked with extracting Israel from his penthouse suite in a Lake Tahoe casino and getting him into protective custody before anyone can carry out Sparazza’s wishes.
Considering the lofty cash prize, it’s no wonder that a slew of assassins have come out of the woodworks, eager to kill Israel and earn the money. Sykes (Alicia Keys) and Watters (Taraji P. Henson) are a pair of black lesbian feminist hitwomen with high-powered weaponry and stealth skills; the Tremors (Chris Pine, Kevin Durand, Maury Sterling) are insane Nazi heavy-metal brothers who are as likely to use chainsaws as guns; Acosta (Nestor Carbonell), well-known for his prowess with torture; and Lazlo Soot (Tommy Flanagan), master of disguise.
Oh, and just for good measure? A bounty hunter (Ben Affleck, sporting a goozy Wisconsin accent) and two of his associates are looking for Israel, too. They were sent by Rip Reed (Jason Bateman), an alcoholic, self-deprecating lawyer who has a bunny suit in his hotel room and occasionally wears women’s undergarments.
All of these people converge on the Nomad hotel and casino, everyone aware that they’re not the only ones looking for Israel but no one sure who else, exactly, is on the case. It gets complicated and bloody.
Carnahan’s previous film, “Narc” (also starring Liotta), was violent enough but barely hinted at his devilishly dark sense of humor. He lets it all hang out here, with audacious, obnoxious dialogue and over-the-top gun battles. To dismiss the film as nothing but gratuitous pulp fiction would be accurate, but it would be missing the point. Carnahan has gone overboard on purpose, reveling in the testosterone-fueled madness. It’s never boring for a minute, and it’s a ridiculous, fun waste of time.
B (1 hr., 48 min.; )