As a red-blooded American dude, I’ve always loved well-put-together, well-choreographed action in fun films. Action films can be quite serious, but there is always room for levity. In 2007, a film called “Smokin’ Aces” hit theatres. I very much remember wanting to see this film as a teenager and enjoying it at the time. When I saw it was available on a streaming service, I jumped on the chance to relive some nostalgia with this odd little film.
The strength of the film comes from its ensemble cast. The plot itself is fairly simple. After watching it again, I can say it certainly reeks of that early 2000s feeling. It’s comedic and sarcastic, with a notable and surprising cast of characters. It’s also from a time before “John Wick,” which means the action certainly feels a bit stilted. Wick changed action movies, for better or worse, and that makes movies like this feel a bit dated. That doesn’t mean they aren’t enjoyable, though.
Smokin’ Aces — Go Get ‘Em
The film has a lot of players, but they all have a pretty basic goal. Everyone is after a man called Buddy’ Aces’ Israel, a Las Vegas magician turned mobster who is locked in a war with a former ally and mob boss named Primo Sparazza. A million-dollar hit is put on Buddy’s head with a request they cut his heart out.
This information is intercepted by the FBI. The FBI is currently working on a deal with Buddy that could take down the entire mafia, but it’s not inked yet. Buddy missed a court appearance, and his lawyers had put up the bail money and don’t want to lose it. So, the lawyers also want Buddy, but they want him in police custody. Until Buddy inks that deal, he has no FBI protection.
This is why there are so many characters. A million-dollar bounty attracts a lot of hitmen, on top of the FBI agents rushing to protect him, and in the mix is a trio of Bail Recovery Agents trying to secure Buddy and put him back in a jail cell on behalf of the lawyers. We also have Buddy and his entourage in the mix. As you’d imagine, the core conflict in the film is what happens when these people all meet in a hotel near Lake Tahoe and fight over who gets Buddy Israel.
That’s the basic plot, but we do get some twists and turns along the way. Some of the twists are telegraphed fairly early on, but there is some creativity and conflict outside of the violence. It’s no best-picture winner, but the cast, setting, and general craziness of the film make it interesting to watch.
Characters On Characters
This is an ensemble cast film that only became more and more of an ensemble cast as it aged. In 2007 the ensemble cast was Alicia Keys, Jeremy Piven, Common, Ray Liotta, Ryan Reynolds, Andy Garcia, Matthew Fox, and Ben Affleck. If this movie was released today, it’d have even more stars to brag about. We get a cadre of famous actors who have since become quite famous, including Chris Pine, Taraji P. Henson, Peter Berg, and Joel Edgerton.
A single film with this many characters means they don’t all get a lot of screen time. To be fair, people like Fox and Bateman have glorified cameos. Ben Affleck doesn’t stick around long, either. The film does focus more on a core cast. The most interesting characters are the assassins, which include a team of femme fatales, a Spanish mercenary and freelance torture artist, a master of disguises, and of course, the Tremor Brothers.
The cast of killers reads like it’s out of a pulp fiction novel. One guy imitates accents and makes realistic masks. Our femme fatales break off with one covering the other as she infiltrates, and the Tremor brothers are neo-Nazi speed freaks who burn everything down while making their hits. In contrast with our FBI agents and bail recovery agents, they most certainly stand out and are fun additions.
I found the characters to be more interesting than the rest of the movie, and there is some intent to that. The downside is that the movie could have been a little longer. It does feel that movies are getting longer and longer, and “Smokin’ Aces” is 109 minutes. However, if they had fleshed it out a bit more and given us more time with the characters, I think I would have enjoyed the film even more.
The action is fun but does feel dated. We see a mix of good gun handling and off-the-wall stuff that comes from the usual Hollywood myths. We get two-handed holds, backup guns, lots of reloads, aimed fire, and general good gun handling.
There is a standout scene in an elevator that gave me a moment of anxiety. It’s an ultra-close-range gunfight in an enclosed environment that would be terrifying in real life. I do love the use of a sniper to cover a comrade in a mostly glass building. It’s clever and adds range to a close-quarter fight. I also imagine it would be terrifying to be under the fire of a .50 BMG while stuck in a hotel.
At the same time, we see a .50 BMG rifle throw people across the room, which simply wouldn’t happen. We also see handguns making people dance as the rounds strike them. We have FBI agents shooting blindly at a sniper they haven’t located hundreds of yards away with shotguns and handguns in a vain and useless effort to stop her. You also learn that no one in Hollywood understands how chainsaws and scopes work.
The Tremor brothers are always entertaining, and their action scenes are supposed to be violent, loud, and brutal. However, I feel like they don’t get a chance to shine. One scene ends as they come out of an elevator into a fight, and when it comes back to the Tremor brothers, the fight is almost over. I wanted to see the entirety of that fight.
Guns, guns, guns there are lots of guns in this film. We get a good mix of the crazy and creative with the standard and boring. The FBI and police use Glocks and Sig P series pistols. Ray Liotta is the old-school FBI agent, so he gets a .38 Special as his backup piece. MP5s and 870s make up the police long guns. Our main hero, Messner, gets an HK USP because he’s just so cool.
The killers get all manner of firearms that reflect their characters. The professional and mask maker, Soot, uses what’s appropriate for the task, be it a suppressed handgun or a pair of vZ. 61 Skorpions. Georgia Sykes conceals a variety of handguns, including a two-tone Jericho and a Glock 19. Her partner Sharice uses a Barrett M82A1 to provide cover fire.
Spanish mercenary Acosta carries a Beretta Bobcat on a hidden sleeve device that’s opposite his other sleeve device which conceals a blade. The Tremors brother carry a wide variety of firearms. This includes an M3 Grease Gun, a Sten gun, a Cobray Street Sweeper, and a full auto Glock 17 with a dash of double-barreled shotgun and S&W 629.
Israel’s bodyguards prefer the massive S&W 500s, which, while ineffective for fighting, are great visually. There are tons of guns, and you can play Where is Waldo with your favorites.
It’s a shame the first movies were followed by a plague of direct-to-DVD sequels and prequels. Those were terrible and likely sank any chance of a proper sequel that made use of the fun world and cast of characters. Maybe we can get a proper reboot.