"Smokin' Aces" is like that 60-car pileup you see on the interstate.
It's vulgar and uncouth to look, but you have to stop and gawk. You can't believe the number of people in it. You can't fathom the carnage, the body count.
And you can't believe that Andy Garcia, in a drawl that comes and goes at will, didn't hear the humor or the irony in his own line, near the finale _ "Do you want your career to end, here? Now?"
It's a movie of obscene excesses, comically overdone complications and performances pitched right on the edge of hysteria. Some of these mistakes appear to be intentional. Writer-director Joe Carnahan apparently took his good notices for the minimalist and fast-moving "Narc" too seriously, and over-shot and over-edited a "look-at-how-many-balls-I-can-juggle" script that lured everyone from Ben Affleck to Alicia Keys to sign on.
Much to their embarrassment.
"Aces" opens with an exhausting 15 minutes of narrated flashbacks and back-story, various characters spinning the yarn of how an aging Mafia don ("He runs La Cosa Nostra on the West Coast" we're told, maybe 22 times) has put out a hit on a popular Vegas magician, Buddy "Aces" Israel.
Buddy is a jerk. Buddy wants to be "connected," mob-wise. Buddy is a sleazeball. Buddy is a snitch. Buddy is a cokehead. How could Jeremy Piven, suddenly so hot from TV's "Entourage," resist playing him?
There's a $1 million bounty on Buddy's head. A guy he crossed wants his heart delivered to him, "old school Sicilian."
There's a mysterious "Swede" on his way to get Buddy. A couple of ex-cops and a bail bondsman (Ben Affleck) want to collect the Buddy bounty first. A pair of lesbian hit-women (pop singer Keys and Taraji Henson) are on the case. Two lone psychos will make their moves (Tommy Flanagan, Pasqual LaCosta).
A family of psycho-skinhead rednecks, the Three Tremors (get it?), want that money.
Carnahan piles excess on excess, as the body count rises, famous faces are killed off for comic effect, and everything and everyone converges on a Lake Tahoe hotel penthouse where Buddy is going through cocaine and hookers like there's a fire sale.
Piven reaches for a bracing abrasiveness as Buddy, flicking through an ever-present deck of cards, abusing himself and everyone around him. He's run through this batch of prostitutes. He wants more.
"These flowers have wilted. Call the florist."
Liotta and Reynolds try to manage some Tarantino-esque banter that sounds written rather than thought up on the spot.
The neo-Nazi hitmen, the Tremors, are the funniest, in a "Road Warrior" sort of way. But the lesbian hit-women (Henson, in particular) have the best lines, slangy, ethnic and "street."
"Someone gone' dead this fool."
Still, you have to wonder if, deep in their darkest places, way too many actors relish the thought of playing somebody so venal, amoral, indulgent, violent, with catchphrase-filled dialogue, that they lose track of what they should be reading a script for _ clarity, cohesion, intelligence. This one had semi-clever twists, all lost in the hundred characters-hundred backstories-hundred narrators of the telling.
Carnahan, given a real budget and a huge cast, pretty much wallows in it. Putting Ben Affleck, and the poor man's Ben Affleck, Ryan Reynolds, in the same movie? Not a good move. Carnahan indulgently gives many supporting players facial blemishes _ moles, boils, zits, and on funny Jason Bateman (as a cowardly lawyer), a cold sore.
Why? He's like the director of "Lucky Number Slevin," fretting over filming visually distracting wallpaper when he should have been streamlining his story.
It's a real pileup of a movie, "Pulp Fiction" on speed. There are giggles in its little flourishes, the over-the-top acting turns (a Ritalin-racked karate kid wannabe who is hysterical). One big shoot-out may take your breath away.
But staring at a road accident isn't the same as being entertained by one. And either way, you'll feel guilty about it later.
2 stars (out of 5)
Cast: Ray Liotta, Ben Affleck, Jeremy Piven, Ryan Reynolds, Alicia Keys, Andy Garcia, Jason Bateman, Common.
Director: Joe Carnahan.
Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes.
Industry rating: R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use.