What do you get when you put various sets of professional killers against Federal Agents? For starters, you get Smokin’ Aces and its prequel Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassins’ Ball. In at least one, they blow up a clown. That has to count for something, right? My full reviews after the jump:
Smokin’ Aces is a play on words. The Aces the title refers to is Buddy “Aces” Israel, a Las Vegas magician who fancied himself a bit of a Mafioso until he fell in too deep and had to turn to the government for an out. At least, he has his agent on top of those negotiations. A suitably scorned mob boss puts a price on Aces – a cool million dollars – and, as part of the bounty, wants Buddy’s heart (silver platter optional). This contract puts would-be assassins and saviors on a collision course. The deeper some people delve into Buddy’s past reveals a connection to the mob they were previously unaware of.
Cast highlights include the always watchable Ryan Reynolds (Just Friends, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) as Richard Messner, the young agent sent to bring Buddy in alive and Jeremy Piven (Entourage. The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard) as the title’s drug-sniffin’, card whirling Aces. My favorite winning combination of the film were Alicia Keys (The Nanny Diaries) and Taraji P Henson (I Can Do Bad All by Myself) as two female hitwomen with issues to spare. A trio also work to steal the show and that’s Chris Pine (Star Trek), Kevin Durand (Lost, 3:10 to Yuma) and Maury Sterling (Beverly Hills Chihuahua – yeah, I’m calling you out) as the Tremor Brothers – equal parts insanity and redneck. Lost fans will also appreciate Nestor Carbonell’s appearance as Acosta, a hitman with a penchant for torture.
Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassins’ Ball starts off with the definition of “blowback” – the unintended results of FBI missions that target those that have targeted agents. You should probably pay attention to this since they were nice enough to lead with it. The film closes with the allegation by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh that the government uses a covert assassination ring. (Real person, too, I totally Wikipedia’d him). What happens in-between these two on-screen texts can only be summed up in one word – mayhem.
Walter Reed, an aging FBI analyst with medium security clearance, has had a three million dollar contract put on his head and the deadline is a day away. A series of agents under the supervision of Agent Baker are assigned to keep Walter alive past the, quite literal, deadline of April 19th at 3am. Even Walter’s protection is a ghost squad, working under the radar and for cash. Agent Malcolm Little secrets them into a bunker underneath his Chicago bar with one way in and out. Much like Smokin’ Aces, the story is a bit more complex than we’re initially led to believe, but not to the degree where you’ll hurt your head.
At times, the filmmaker’s work is a bit obtrusive, especially during the opening and similar stylized elements, but this is the risk when you use a bright and active palate. The film dragged a bit between the introduction of the assassins and the attack on Reed’s location.
Tom Berenger (Major League, Sniper) brings the man in peril, and a wheelchair, Walter Reed to the screen and Clayne Crawford (24) is Agent Baker his Federally appointed guardian angel. Ariella Martinez is introduced as “nun” taking out a priest… sexily… and Martha Higareda (Street Kings) embodies that. Finbar “The Surgeon” McTeague fancies himself a bit of a brain expert and former footballer Vinnie Jones (Snatch, Midnight Meat Train) chews scenery in the role. Kaitlyn Tremor, Lester Tremor, Fritz Tremor (Michael Parks – Grindhouse) and Baby Boy Tremor (C. Ernst Harth) represent the Tremor family in Assassins’ Ball. Autumn Reeser (Valentine, The O.C.) shines above her kin as the dirty girl Kaitlyn Tremor.
Maury Sterling bridges the two films in the role of Lester Tremor. Actor Tommy Flanagan (Braveheart, Gladiator) also acts as connective tissue as chameleon-like assassin Lazlo Soot. Christopher Michael Holley appears in both as Malcolm Little/Beanie.
Both Discs have BD Live on startup pull a fresh preview from the internet (Smokin’ Aces was kind enough to pull up Smokin’ Aces 2) One must also have to sit through a demo of pocket Blu for the iPhone before you can access the main menu. Both menu screens have a Ticker that showed Academy Award nominations as well as My Scenes – which allows viewers to bookmark their favorite scenes and clips – and a D-Box Motion Code
Disc menu includes Chapters, Setup, Extras, U-Control, How To (use a Blu-Ray disc), What’s New (powered by BD Live for new and exclusive content)
Language options (found in setup) include English, Spanish and French in 5.1 DTS as well as Descriptive Video Service, Feature Commentary with Writer/Director Joe Carnahan and Editor Robert Frazen, Feature Commentary with Writer/Director Joe Carnahan, Common, Christopher Holley and Zach Cumer and subtitles in English, Spanish and French. as well as the ability to turn the menu button sounds off and on and control the volume for Picture in Picture.
U-Control includes an Assassin Tracker function as well as Picture in Picture. Both options appear on screen during your viewing.
Deleted and Extended Scenes — four scenes that you can select separately of choose to Play All.
Cowboy Ending — alternate ending to the film wherein Ryan Reynolds’ character takes final justice into his own hands.
The Lineup — Glimpses into the colorful cast of characters divided into five categories: Buddy Israel, The Feds, Lethal Ladies, The Tremor Brothers and Bounty Hunters.
The Big Gun — a look at the mind and method behind the madness, Joe Carnahan, in the form of an interview intercut with production diary footage.
Shoot ‘Em Up: Stunts and Effects — a look at assembling the high octane film with interview footage of Carnahan and the cast.
Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassins’ Ball:
Viewers can choose between the Unrated and Rated Versions of the film from the first screen (though there is the option to return to the Rated Version from the Unrated screen).
Disc menu includes Chapters, Setup, Extras, How To (use a Blu-Ray disc), What’s New (powered by BD Live for new and exclusive content)
Language options (found in setup) include English, Spanish and French in 5.1 DTS, Feature Commentary with Executive Producer Joe Carnahan and Director PJ Pesce and subtitles in English, Spanish and French. as well as the ability to turn the menu button sounds off and on.
Deleted Scenes — almost a dozen scenes, but sans navigation as it immediately plays all.
Gag Reel — get to see the clapper with it’s original title of Blowback.
Behind the Scenes with Joe Carnahan — Carnahan talks about the audience’s reaction to the original film and then he, Director PJ Pesce, Producers, Writers and a couple cast members chime in on the second incarnation as well and the need to make it a prequel (to keep the Tremor brothers in on the action).
Confessions of an Assassin — Director PJ Pesce, Executive Producer Joe Carnahan and cast members Vinnie Jones, Tom Berenger, Clayne Crawford, Autumn Reeser, Martha Higareda, Maury Sterling, Michael Parks, Tommy Flanagan, Christopher Michael Holley, C. Earnst Harth, and Producer Mike Elliott chime in through this production video diary.
Read, Aim, Fire: The Weapons of Smokin’ Aces 2 — Rob Fournier, the shoot’s armorer, and the cast talk you through the guns and the training employed by the titular assassins.
Cue the Clown — a look at the scene in which a clown is shot through the bar window and explodes.
The Bunker Mentality: Designing the Set — a look at the bunker throwback art deco speakeasy set that is underneath the bar.
If you have a hankerin’ for violence, Smokin’ Aces and its prequel Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassins’ Ball will quench your thirst. If thought-provoking entertainment is your bag, please look elsewhere. Both of the Smokin’ Aces films succeed in presenting the audience with colorful assassins; the Tremor family being so nice, they used it twice. Unfortunately, neither film rises to that level in other regards. Good, messy uncivilized and unfiltered fun.
FINAL GRADE – B-