Smokin’ Aces didn’t make much of an impact in theaters when it was released back in January, although it easily made its budget back within weeks of opening. It was by no means a box office failure, it just seemed to leave theaters as quickly as it came. This is a real shame as this movie is one of the more entertaining films of its kind I’ve seen in years.
Smokin’ Aces is set up just the way the trailers portrayed it. Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven) has a hit put out on him by a notorious mobster. The hit attracts a whole array of characters, ranging from the FBI (featuring Andy Garcia, Ray Liotta and Ryan Reynolds), an ex-cop group (led by Ben Affleck), two individual hit men (Tommy Flanagan and Nestor Carbonell), a team of killers (Alicia Keys and Taraji P. Henson) and one of my favorite groups of killers, the Tremor Brothers (Kevin Durand, Maury Sterling and Chris Pine). While their individual stories are set up at the beginning of the film, it all culminates in a fantastic finale for the film, showcasing each one of the assassins’ talents, as well as an impressively wide range of acting emotions from Ryan Reynolds and a scene stealing performance by Jason Bateman.
While the trailers set the story up well, it did sell it as more of a comedy than it really is. There is a heavy amount of drama packed into the story and Taraji Henson and Ryan Reynolds emote the majority of it—quite brilliantly, as well. They’re given two of the toughest scenes in the film to express their emotions in and while Reynolds scene is more epic, Henson gives a performance that is even more powerful (especially after listening to the film commentary and finding out the reason why her performance was so strong).
The films direction also greatly impressed me. In particular, the elevator sequence with Liota and Carbonell—the reflections and play on Carbonell’s face in the gold reflection, making only his eye sockets and few other facial features reflect. The ensuing gun fight is also brilliantly staged and once the lights in the elevator go out and only the muzzle flashes are left to light the elevator…it’s just one of those moments where you whisper “cool” under your breath. On top of that the action sequences are a great treat as well, especially when Common’s character takes down the Tremor brothers—which, while a bit cheesy with the chainsaw death, is still great fun to watch.
Smokin’ Aces bounces between light and dark hearted at times, but strikes a comfortable balance for the entire film. There is never a question of when to laugh and when to start taking the film more seriously. Even in the tense moments there’s humor to be had and I found myself digging the film even more on my third viewing.
Overall the film may not be the most mindblowing in story telling, but Narc director Joe Carnahan gives the audience a solid storyline with some very visually impressive directing. When you learn how it was all shot and staged (and filmed in just forty days), it’s easy to let your jaw drop at just how superbly Smokin’ Aces came together.
Packaged in a single disc amaray case with child lock “snaps” on the outside, Smokin’ Aces comes packing no inserts or fancy disc art (at least my review copy didn’t). The outer art is the same as used on the one-sheet poster, although slightly modified in the cropping and lettering. Oddly enough, the back cover doesn’t mention a main DVD selling point: commentaries. And this film has two of em’!
The menus are animated with music over the main menu only. Great animations on the menu are to be had here—kind of reminds me of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang opening titles…very stylized. Although it’s animated, the menus aren’t a nuisance to navigate, which is always a nice treat.
Special features on this release will vary in quality for some—but I think they packed just the right amount on. An alternate ending to the film is given, which is noticeably weaker than the theatrical one (the title given to it [“Cowboy Ending”] fits it well) and a handful of deleted scenes are thrown in on top of the alternate ending. The deleted scenes range from simply alternate cuts to completely left out scenes and not one of them am I sorry were cut. They’re neat to see and deleted scenes have become a key feature on DVDs, but I’m struggling to see why (even though I’m always eager to watch them)—a lot of deleted scenes I’ve watched on DVDs so far deserve to be deleted as they would either slow the film down or just ruin a scene. While none of these scenes would ruin the film, they do feel unnecessary.
Around eight minutes of outtakes are included and not surprisingly the majority of the reel stems from hijinks caused by Affleck and Reynolds. I’m very disappointed those two never got a scene together in the film, as I’m sure the outtakes from that would’ve been well worth watching. As is the outtake reel is great fun to watch, if only to see Affleck completely screw up a pool shot over and over again. One note to add is that while the commentaries mention that there is an alternate intro on the DVD, there is only an alternate ending. Unless it’s an easter egg and I just suck at finding them, as far as I can tell the alternate intro is not on this disc.
Two featurettes cover the films production and the characters of the film. There is a lot of interesting and fun facts about the film thrown into these featurettes and the character specific ones feature interviews with most of the cast that portrayed them—certainly do not watch these before the film though, as they contain spoilers for just about everyone of the characters.
Rounding out the special features are two full length commentaries. One includes the producer and director and the other with the director and the cast. Oddly enough, although I was balking at the idea of watching the film three times I greatly enjoyed both commentaries. While Joe Carnahan was present on both, he rarely repeated himself (probably due to the fact he recorded them back to back). Both the producer and the cast were entertaining as well—Zach Cumer (who plays the psychotic kid “Warren”) is even present on the cast commentary. While he’s the kid of the commentary, he does wrangle some interesting stuff out of the cast and Carnahan at times. If you enjoyed the film, both commentaries are worth a listen; it’s a shame more of the cast couldn’t have been included (none of the “big guns” of the film are present), but it’s still fun all the same.
The video and audio of this film is superb. Everything looks great on this transfer, with very little compression and grain to be had. Audio is nice and strong and really gives some immersion in the action sequences. When Henson fires her massive sniper rifle you can feel the bullets travel from one speaker to another and at the same time the subwoofer pounds out the blast. It’s a formidable gun that’s real impact is nowhere nearly felt by a surround sound system—but it certainly gives you a good idea over it’s blast power when it easily eclipses all the puny hand guns the rest of the FBI and assassins fire.
Overall the film is great fun and the DVD is equally impressive. Between the audio and visual transfer, to the hours of special features, this film has a robust release set for it. While I’m sure there is a myriad of leftover documentary footage and the alternate opening, what we got is enough and I see no reason for a double dip of this release for years to come. Definitely give this release a look when it comes out as I easily tag it as Highly Recommended.
Smokin’ Aces hits DVD on April 17th.