Joe Carnahan made his name with the realistic cop drama Narc, which opens with a frenetic foot chase that is one of the most engaging and riveting chases captured on film. This combination of intense action mixed with realistic drama worked great on the small scale of Narc, but Carnahan tries to do too much at once with his larger budget in Smokin’ Aces. The realistic cop drama is kept, but focus is allowed to drift in many other directions, occasionally violent and strange. This isn’t to say that there aren’t many things to admire about Aces, but many of these strong points seem to stem from many other similar films, only with more weak points than the films it copies had.
There is a wealth of actors scattering the hectic plot of Aces, and much like True Romance, there is no guaranteeing that they will all survive. This also doesn’t mean that everyone will be dead by the end of the film, because Aces is remarkably forgiving and allows far more survivals than you might expect from the onslaught of violence seen in the highly misleading trailer. There are a few scenes of violence that seems ridiculously over-the-top in order to satisfy the calculated scenes of internal pain coming from Jeremy Piven’s guilt-ridden magician and Ryan Reynold’s morally coached detective. Many of the other actors are given lighter roles that test their comedic ability more. Jason Bateman is as good as he has ever been as a pathetic and lonely lawyer with low self-esteem and who is without pants the entire film. Ben Affleck uses his best accent for a role with a great deal of dialogue in the extensive set-up for an extremely basic premise.
Try as he might Carnahan is unable to balance between serious cop/gangster drama and a slew of Tarantino-esque scenes which take a short detour from anything relevant. A collection of these scenes are great in and of themselves but they tend to bog down the fluid action scenes. When the action occurs, it is brutal and well shot, but the brilliance comes from the way the film builds. There is a lengthy establishing sequence and a lead up to an elevator sequence in which two separate elevators contain the beginnings of a gunfight, and as the suspense build up there is a feeling of anticipation which feels as though the conclusion will be spectacular. Unfortunately the build up is far better than the conclusion, which falls flat and answers away all of the questions with words rather than gunplay, leaving a film which was almost great.