‘Smokin’ Aces’: high style, weak storyline

Writer/Director Joe Carnahan’s recent release “Smokin’ Aces” delivers viewers a visually stunning tale of hitmen, FBI agents and their socialite target. Borrowing ideas from films such as “Pulp Fiction” and “Saw,” Carnahan has blurred the fine line between action, comedy and gore films.

This stylistic film begins with FBI agents Messner (Ryan Reynolds) and Carruthers (Ray Liotta) receiving word of a million dollar bounty for Las Vegas magician and Mafia wannabe Buddy “Ace” Israel. With this recent turn of events, Israel is forced to turn informant and hide out in a Lake Tahoe hotel suite. Upon hearing of the high-paying bounty, hitmen from around the world set their sights on Israel’s life.

Seemingly ripped out of a Quentin Tarantino film, Alicia Keys and Taraji Henson play assassin duo Georgia Sykes and Sharice Watters. Keys delivers a solid debut, while Henson (“Baby Boy” and “Hustle and Flow”) shows her diversity as an actress.

Hip hop artist Common also makes a solid film debut in “Smokin’ Aces.”

As Israel’s main bodyguard, Sir Ivy, Common breaks free of his occupational typecasting. Where many rappers have focused on the violent aspect of a character, he focuses on the emotional.

Perhaps the very genius of the film is the character development displayed in “Smokin’ Aces.” Quirky dialogue and establishing scenes paint the various hitmen uniquely.

For example, the introduction of blood money mercenary Pasquale Acosta showed him as a ruthless killer who used gruesome torture techniques. The scenes of torture were shot very similarly to those of the popular “Saw” series.

Another highlight of the film is Cinematographer Mauro Fiore’s camera work. There are various genres of cinema in the film and he captured the visual aesthetics of each very well. Although a cinematographer’s work is often vastly overlooked, Fiore is possibly the very star of the film.

Despite the positive aspects, “Smokin’ Aces” is far from perfect. The film begins as a carefree bullet flying action-comedy, but near the end it attempts to mutate into an ethical drama. The mixing of separate genres is great in theory but “Smokin’ Aces” overdid it. This formula is unsuccessful.

As a whole, the storyline is very weak. Where character development is a strong point, the film’s final plot twist is inversely the weak point. The viewer is left asking if two separate films got mixed in the cutting room and were presented as one.

In all, “Smokin’ Aces” delivers enough eye candy to satisfy the average movie goers’ sweet tooth for action. However, the story line will probably do nothing for the appetite of those who consider themselves serious film buffs.