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January 2007


by Tara Harris


Distributor: Universal Studios
Director: Joe Carnahan
Screenwriter: Joe Carnahan
Cast: Jeremy Piven, Ben Affleck, Alicia Keys, Ryan Reynolds, Taraji P. Henson, Common, Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia, Jason Bateman
Rated R for expletives, ethnic slurs, and graphic violence.



A Bloodlusty Thrill from Start to Finish

Buddy "Aces" Israel (Piven), a mob-snitching lounge act magician in Vegas, is worth more than he realizes. Under protective custody by the FBI (Reynolds, Liotta, Garcia) for his contribution in dismantling the local mob, Buddy Israel's heart is wanted on a platter by mob boss Primo Sparazza, who offers a bounty reward of a cool million dollars to whomever succeeds in snuffing out Israel. Writer/Director Joe Carnahan's clever intertwining of thugs (featuring Affleck) and thugs-in-training results in a gory, and oftentimes comedic interaction between characters. FBI agent Richard Messner's (Reynolds) mad race against time to ensure that justice prevails keeps pace with the film's swift progression.

Piven's portrayal of Buddy "Aces" Israel is intense and reminiscent of Pacino, circa 1972. Buddy's right-hand man Sir Ivy (Common) packs a potent punch of fierce machismo that commands respect.
Smokin' Aces is an engaging fusion of "The Godfather" and "Pulp Fiction" with random odd character moments that are even downright slapstick. The film is unbiased in its depiction of lower-class, violent criminals, and spares no one. Stereotypes abound and are generously spread among the cast, while blood by the bucketfuls is shed without respect of color, gender, or creed.

Although Georgia Sykes (Keys) is a mercenary schemer at best, her silent strength is translated as seductive, and is unexpectedly heroic at a critical moment. Keys delivers her lines with a smooth, steady bravura. Taraji P. Henson provides consistent comic relief throughout the film as Sharice Watters, Georgia's kicky cohort who has a girl crush on her.

Keys has several television acting credits under her belt, but Joe Carnahan's featuring of an A-list cast and a riveting script with punchy dialogue ensures that this is Keys' most prominent role to date. Keys' portrayal of Georgia Sykes is a happy middle ground of being different enough in integrity, lifestyle, and values from herself to constitute as "acting," but believable enough so that Sykes is not an overexaggerated caricature. It is nothing short of a bold, smart career move for Keys to courageously take on a role so unrelated to her world of music. As there is a current trend for singers to parlay into the world of acting by playing other singers, Keys' decision to showcase her talent as a ruthless roughneck is a leap more than a segue from one medium to another.

Georgia Sykes is a multi-faceted character who has moxie, backbone, and even expresses fleeting moments of vulnerability. It is a role that demonstrates Keys' range of acting ability. Keys is smooth and confident when it calls for it, and she is believably brazen when her character's back is to the wall. Keys delivers the essence of the character's emotions in a way that just "fits." With such a stellar cast and Keys being a virtual newbie to film, it was impressive to witness her standing shoulder to shoulder with the cast of seasoned actors and not fade into the tapestry. I forgot for the duration of the film that she can also SANG!

When one hears that Alicia Keys is in a "mob movie" playing a gun-toting hooligan, it begs the question, why didn't she choose to represent people of color by playing a more esteemed, positive character? Smokin' Aces was the perfect platform for actors of all ethnicities and both genders to have a chance to play a seedy role and not denigrate their ilk, as evil and crime are fair game across the board in this film. If ever there were a movie that ironically defied stereotyping by calling attention to every conceivable universal stereotype and incorporating them all into one big fishbowl for the world's enjoyment, Smokin' Aces is it.

Smokin' Aces opens in theaters nationwide on January 26, 2007.