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Mob boss Primo Sparazza has taken out a hefty ontract on Buddy "Aces" Israel, a sleazy magician who has agreed to turn state's evidence against the Vegas mob. The FBI, sensing a chance to use this small-time con to bring down big-target Sparazza, places Aces into protective custody -- under the supervision of two agents dispatched to Aces' Lake Tahoe hideout. When word of the price on Aces' head spreads into the community of ex-cons and cons-to-be, it entices bounty hunters, thugs-for-hire, deadly vixens and double-crossing mobsters to join in the hunt. With all eyes on Tahoe, this rogues' gallery collides in a race to hit the jackpot and rub out Aces.
For more about Smokin' Aces and the Smokin' Aces Blu-ray release, see Smokin' Aces Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on January 17, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta, Andy García, Jeremy Piven, Ben Affleck, Common
Director: Joe Carnahan
» See full cast & crew
Smokin' Aces Blu-ray Review
A devilishly divisive shoot-em-up reaps an impressive Blu-ray release...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, January 17, 2010
Cards on the table: despite its tonal inconsistencies and brash cast of crass, oft-times off-putting characters, I've grown rather fond of Smokin' Aces. It wasn't love at first sight, mind you, but a torrid affair that took me by complete surprise. A cinematic it just happened, baby moment if there ever was one. After falling for writer/director Joe Carnahan in the wake of Narc -- a critically acclaimed, slowburn stunner starring Ray Liotta and Jason Patrick -- I approached Smokin' Aces with high hopes. But as I sat in the theater watching its schizophrenic madness unfold, I began suspecting my affections were misplaced. By the time the credits rolled, I never wanted to see a Carnahan flick again. Flash forward three years, one unexpected late-night TV viewing, two subsequent rentals and, eventually, a hesitant DVD purchase. Before I knew what had happened, I found myself appreciating its finer qualities, its director's bizarre grindhouse sensibilities, and the purpose behind its fractured, nearly incomprehensible, multifaceted storylines. As much as I didn't want to admit it, I had fallen in love with an unlovable film.
Entertainer Buddy Israel (Jeremy Piven) is in a tight spot. A notorious mob boss named Primo Sparazza (Joseph Ruskin) has promised a million dollars to a mysterious killer upon receipt of Buddy's high-strung, cocaine-riddled heart. After learning about the hit, Israel retreats to the penthouse of a Lake Tahoe casino and orders his agent, Morris Mecklen (Curtis Armstrong), to negotiate an immunity deal with the FBI's Deputy Director (Andy Garcia). In the meantime, Buddy's loyal bodyguards (Common, Joel Edgerton, and Christopher Michael Holley) lock down the penthouse and brace for the coming storm. It seems Sparazza's contract has inadvertently attracted the attention of several deadly assassins -- shady lawyer Rip Reed (Jason Bateman) and bounty hunters Jack Dupree (Ben Affleck), Pistol Pete Deeks (Peter Berg), and Hollis Elmore (Martin Henderson); international mercenary Pasquale Acosta (Nestor Carbonell); no-nonsense hit-women Georgia (Alicia Keys) and Sharice (Taraji Henson); uncompromising master-of-disguise Lazlo Soot (Tommy Flanagan); and deranged redneck brothers Darwin (Star Trek's newest captain, Chris Pine), Jeeves (Kevin Durand), and Lester Tremor (Maury Sterling) -- all of whom are now gunning for Israel's head. Buddy's only hope? Veteran FBI agent Donald Carruthers (Ray Liotta) and rookie Richard Messner (Ryan Reynolds), both of whom have been assigned to the case. But with so many savage killers surrounding Israel's penthouse, both agents have their work cut out for them.
Let me be abundantly clear: many of you will despise Smokin' Aces. While Carnahan's asylum has gained a respectable cult following in the aftermath of its less-than-spectacular theatrical run, it continues to alienate, disappoint, and disgust the majority of those who tour its bloody halls. I'll be the first to admit it comes across as a complete mess -- an "action-oriented, Tarantino-tinted dramedy with an identity crisis," as one of my colleagues so affectionately puts it -- but once you move past its garish aesthetics and vacillating temperament, a legitimate film, one with artistic merit, finally emerges. Carnahan, actively working to jettison viewers who aren't prepared for everything he has in store, pushes the boundaries of good taste, reveling in his killers' insanity, pressing in against Buddy's breakdown, and exuberantly stuffing his actors' mouths with F-bomb gumbo and pop culture Kool-Aid. Piven and his A-list brethren's performances are just as impossible to pin down. Reynolds and Liotta seem to be in an entirely different movie than Affleck, Pine and the Tremor boys. Keys and Common tackle roles that shouldn't be anywhere near the madcap nonsense that dominates some of the action scenes. Moreover, an emotional undercurrent springs up as if from nowhere, confining Piven and Reynolds to their all-too-effective devices as the remaining cast members indulge in Carnahan's gore-spattered lunacy. But it's these very same inconsistencies, these jarring tonal chasms that set Smokin' Aces apart from the genre crowd. Far from conventional, even farther from predictable, its Pulp Fiction as told through the mumbled ramblings of a speed freak; Reservoir Dogs as envisioned by a hyperactive, sleep-deprived videogame addict.
Case closed? Hardly. Though I've come to appreciate Carnahan's intentions -- again, after a half-dozen viewings -- I can understand exactly what turns so many viewers away. Smokin' Aces is the cinematic equivalent of blunt-force trauma. It hits again and again and again, beating its audience into submission before taking a few extra swings for good measure. Even in its well-paced tease of a buildup, it dishes ugliness and depravity with abandon, denying reeling inductees the footholds necessary to ascend its subversive slopes. The fact that its story can be so convoluted only complicates matters. The director wedges a decades old conspiracy and countless plot twists into his already crowded narrative, arguably at the expense of his main characters and the structure of his screenplay. It's in these moments that Carnahan seems to enjoy roughing up his audience a bit too much, establishing himself as the creepy kid in the back of the class who spends his time etching dismembered stick figures on his textbooks. That being said, his drive is so intense, his methods so commanding, that it would be a mistake to simply write off Smokin' Aces or its filmmaker as quickly as some have. It certainly may not appeal to your particular tastes, but it isn't the sprawling miscarriage so many, including myself circa 2006, have labeled it.
All of that is to say this: while Carnahan's actioner is a high-scoring film in my corner of the internet, it may not be in yours. I loathe the Crank series, but others line up by the hundreds. While I'm certainly prepared to argue that Smokin' Aces has more intellectual and intrinsic value than Statham's high voltage bread-n-butter, I understand all too well that every film has a fan. My advice? Rent this one, rent it again if necessary, and proceed with caution. It isn't a safe blind-buy by any means, but it will worm its way into some of your hearts if given the chance.
Smokin' Aces Blu-ray, Video Quality
Though brimming with gorgeous shots and memorable photography, Smokin' Aces is not a pretty film. Aggressive greens and oranges negate primary punches, skintones flare and fade as rapidly as Carnahan's edits, bottomless shadows swallow anything that approaches them, whites bloom and colors burst. However, Universal's 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer is incredibly true to its source, deftly handling Carnahan's most sordid intentions with confidence and poise. Mauro Fiore's stark palette looks exactly as it should; exactly as it did in theaters. Contrast is bold and blacks are oh-so-inky, lending depth to an image that could have easily flattened out. Detail is sharp, refined and revealing; any intermittent softness that haunts the screen should be attributed to the original print, not the studio's presentation. Likewise, fine textures are exceedingly crisp and delineation, though difficult to pierce, is faithful to the director's vision. DNR and edge enhancement are nowhere to be found, and it doesn't appear as if the image has been tampered with since it left Carnahan's hands. Brief bursts of faint artifacts dot the unforgiving Lake Tahoe skies, but significant macroblocking, aliasing, crush, unidentifiable noise, and ringing are apparently busy elsewhere, ruining the transfers of other, less proficient releases. Fans of the film will be ecstatic when they see the results.
Smokin' Aces Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Between Clint Mansell's score, Carnahan's thundering edits, and the Tremor Brothers' patented arsenal of death and dismemberment, Universal's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track has a lot on its plate; a teetering plate it balances without incident. Dialogue is crisp, clean, and naturally grounded in the center channel, dancing a perfectly prioritized dervish with the chaos and insanity that tends to ensue the moment a gun is drawn. LFE output is weighty and persistent, infusing every boom and thoom with raw, unadulterated power. Rear speaker activity is brisk and lively, using heightened acoustics and ambient prowess to create an immersive, strangely convincing soundfield. It doesn't sound "real," so to speak, but it matches the intensity and surreality of a very bloody game of assassins' chess. Directionality is spot on and pans are polished as well. Bullets ricochet in every direction, sniper shots tear across the soundfield, and the crowded halls of the Lake Tahoe casino are continually seasoned with distant explosions and gunfire. It isn't the most subtle mix I've heard, nor the most realistic, but it is a memorable sonic storm that enhances Carnahan's overwhelming assault on the senses.
Smokin' Aces Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Blu-ray edition of Smokin' Aces is loaded with special features and exclusives including two audio commentaries, a U-Control Picture-in-Picture track, deleted scenes and other traditional featurettes. The only downside? The majority of the video content is presented in standard definition.
Smokin' Aces Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Just to beat a dead horse further, Joe Carnahan's Smokin' Aces isn't for everyone. In his quest to shatter expectations, he broke his audience's back. Still, after repeat viewings, the method to his madness becomes more apparent, transforming what could have been a career-ending misfire into an ultraviolent cult favorite. Thankfully, it's easier to digest thanks to Universal's Blu-ray release. With a striking video transfer, a powerful DTS-HD Master Audio track, and a generous supplemental package (that boasts two commentaries, a PiP experience, and more), Smokin' Aces takes a shot at showcase status. Newcomers should definitely rent the film before considering a purchase, but fans will find its low-cost Blu-ray release fulfills their every desire.
Smokin' Aces: Other Editions
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Smokin' Aces Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Smokin' Aces Joins its Sequel on Blu-ray in January - October 31, 2009
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced that they will release 'Smokin' Aces' for Blu-ray on January 19th, day-and-date with the Blu-ray release of the direct-to-video sequel 'Smokin' Aces 2 - Assassins' Ball'. Coming on a BD-50, video will be presented ...
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