April 26, 2007

DVD Review: Smokin' Aces

Wow, Smokin' Aces. This was the first jolt of life that came to the 2007 calendar year. It was the first film to ignite the excitement of the cinema. It opened at the end of January, and was not really met all that enthusiastically by the critical world. Hell, even I wasn't quite sure if I liked it when I left the theater that night. However, I do know that my adrenaline had jumped up a few notches. The film is, essentially, Tarantino to the nth degree, but without all the skill in execution. What it lacks for in polish and finesse, it makes up for in its frenetic energy.

I truly wanted to love Smokin’ Aces. The trailers set a high bar, I loved the hyper-kinetic look, the promise of bullets and wild humor, and the impressive array of stars. What I got were some great action set pieces, some nice humor, and a story that went through too many hoops to force everything into position while never developing a character to like. I can honestly say that I did not care what happened to any of the characters. It did not matter one iota whether they all lived or died, whether anyone was successful at achieving their ends.

But, and there is almost always a but, I still found myself enjoying the ride. It was not nearly as much as I had hoped, but there was a certain giddy joy that could be gleaned from the cartoonish characters, the outlandish situations, and the infectious energy that pervades the camera moves and editing. It is a comic book/video game come to life.

The plot has a hit put out on Buddy “Aces” Israel. He is currently in a battle with Primo Sparrazzo for control of the Nevada crime scene. When it comes out that Aces is going to testify for the Federal Government, essential shutting down the family, Primo puts out a hit on the sleazy Vegas showman. One million dollars goes to whoever brings him Buddy’s heart, an odd contract to be sure, and one that is more than meets the eye. This attracts all manner of colorful characters to the Lake Tahoe penthouse that is currently serving as house and home to our titular character. Buddy is holed up, sealed off from the rest of the world, surrounded by Motley Crue levels of decadence, lines of coke and crumpled bodies of used hookers litter his living space. It is this hotel that serves as host for the likes of a master of disguise, an expert in torture, a trio of tattooed punks, and a lesbian hit-couple.

Watching it again, on DVD, allows me to write off more of the problems that the film is infused with. I found that it played very well in the home theater. The craziness was scarecly contained within the television frame, and I think that the smaller screen works to its advantage, allowing a smaller canvas for it to play itself out on. The pulpy material seems a bit more suited to it, although it is big and in your face and a blast on the big screen.

Audio/Video. The disk looks good, the action is smooth, the sound is clear, and the colors really pop. The disk is presented in its original aspect ratio, which is always a good thing, and the audio is Dolby Digital 5.1.

Extras. In addition to the wild movie, there is a prety good selection of extras included.
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes. A few more scenes to add to your experience, including a longer version of the bar scene with Ben Affleck, Peter Berg, and Martin Henderson.
  • Outtakes. Your typical collection of flubbed lines.
  • Cowboy Ending. Not satisfied with the way it ended? Here is an alternate ending.
  • The Line-Up. Here are a series of clips to introduce you to the various caharacters and groups, focusing on Buddy, the bounty hunters, the Tremor Brothers, The Feds, and others.
  • The Big Gun. An interview with director Joe Carnahan while on the set.
  • Shoot'Em Up: Guns and Effects. A featurette looking at the stunts and the gun training involved to bring the world to life.
  • Commentaries. There are two tracks here, one with writer/director Joe Carnahan and editor Robert Frazen, the other with Carnahan, Common, Christopher Holley, and Zach Cumer.

Bottomline. It is far from perfect, but it is so far over the top that I feel some great level of forgiveness. I allowed myself to wallow in the Tarantino-esque craziness. This is definitely a movie to grab some popcorn and just have some fun with.



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