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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW - Smokin' Aces



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#1 of 3 Kevin EK

Kevin EK

    Screenwriter

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Posted April 19 2007 - 09:50 PM


Smokin’ Aces
________________________________________



SMOKIN’ ACES

Studio: Universal
Film Year: 2007
Film Length: 109 minutes
Genre: Action/Dark Comedy/Drama
Aspect Ratio:

• Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1

Colour/B&W: Colour

Audio:
• English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround



Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Film Rating: R





Release Date: April 17, 2007.


Rating: 3/5

With: Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia, Alicia Keys, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven & Ryan Reynolds

Written & Directed by: Joe Carnahan

SMOKIN’ ACES is a seriously confused movie. Clearly designed to emulate a combination of MIDNIGHT RUN, PULP FICTION and THE USUAL SUSPECTS, the film initially attempts a tone of action comedy, as multiple teams of assassins close in on Buddy “Aces” Israel before he can snitch on the mob to the Feds. Somewhere along the way, the film loses its bearings and starts to take itself seriously. By the film’s close, the story has shifted into an overly dramatic mode, if not a melodramatic one. The film is Joe Carnahan’s third feature directorial effort (since 2002’s NARC, and his debut film 4 years before that) and it shows signs of being his effort to get a lot of things out of his system. (He openly says this during one of the interviews on the disc). The problem here is that while Carnahan has assembled a cast that could easily pull off the tricky balancing act he is attempting, he hasn’t given them a script or a director that could pull it off. The result is a film that works in fits and starts. Some sequences have a kinetic grace to them, while others fall completely flat. Ultimately, the viewer is left wondering what film s/he started out watching in the first place. There’s a lot of talent on display here, but I have to fall back to some basic theatre questions in the final analysis: What was Carnahan trying to accomplish, did he accomplish it, and was it worth it? I personally didn’t come up with satisfactory answers. Other viewers may have different responses, which I would encourage. For myself, I wouldn’t see this as an automatic purchase. It’s an interesting rental for the curious viewer, and perhaps a purchase for fans of Joe Carnahan or the cast.


VIDEO QUALITY: 3/5

SMOKIN’ ACES gets a good anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer here. There’s a good range of colors on display throughout, from the harsh blacks and whites of FBI headquarters to the more garish displays of the major sets and Tahoe locations. The only issue here is that it is evident that the penthouse setting for much of the film is clearly a set with a translite backing, in spite of the obvious CGI work done to mask it. Certain settings come across better, particularly a hotel elevator/lobby area that gets put to great use in two contrasting scenarios at the film’s climax. Whenever the actors are in real settings, the visuals spring to life. (At one early point, a scene appears to have been staged in the same coffee shop used for PULP FICTION). The picture here isn’t too sharp, but this is actually a benefit here, given that some characters are using disguises and other actors actually benefit from the lack of detail on the facial features. Near the end, the film comes into a pretty sharp focus, which seems to be Carnahan’s intent – and for his purposes, this actually serves the film quite well.


AUDIO QUALITY: 4/5

SMOKIN’ ACES has a pretty solid sound mix, with a good use of surround channels throughout – usually to add to the atmosphere and help put the viewer in the same room as all the gunshots and cacophony. Whenever the music comes up, it fills all the channels in a fairly satisfying manner. The subwoofer gets a pretty good workout what with the constant gunplay and resultant onscreen breakage.


SPECIAL FEATURES: 2/5

SMOKIN’ ACES comes with a pretty decent package of special features, but they only scratch the surface on what was clearly a difficult shoot in a limited time. The viewer is provided with two commentaries and over 40 minutes of featurettes and deleted scenes, but the overall effect is more of a celebration of Joe Carnahan than a serious examination of the film and its production.

• Commentaries – Two audio commentaries are included on the disc. The first is with Joe Carnahan and his editor Robert Frazen. The second has Joe Carnahan along with three non-lead cast members – Common and Christopher Hilley (who play the muscle behind Buddy Israel) and Zach Cumer, a teenager who features in one sequence later in the film. The discussion with the editor reveals a little more information, as Carnahan and Frazen drink beer while they watch the movie. The conversation with the cast doesn’t reveal much, although there are occasional gems – such as Carnahan talking about how he added CGI onto the translate to make the backdrop seem real. The viewer is left with the impression that Carnahan is very pleased with the film – but not that he has learned anything about it from watching it with us.

• Deleted Scenes – (9:24 total) Four deleted and/or extended versions of scenes are included. All are non-anamorphic, but have an optional English subtitle available. All are fairly expendable scenes that add a little character flavoring but don’t really move the story forward. In other words, these were good cuts.

• Cowboy Ending – (1:05) An non-anamorphic alternate ending is presented, which doesn’t change the content of the ending other than to drastically shorten it. As it turns out, the ending used in the film makes more sense.

• Outtakes – (9:29 total) A collection of non-anamorphic gag reel material is presented, most of which shows the cast goofing off after blowing a line or move here or there. On the other hand, the gaffes with Ray Liotta have a bit more teeth to them – he doesn’t seem to be responding as happily to Carnahan jumping in on the walkie talkie during his scenework.

• The Lineup – (12:56 total) A series of brief anamorphic introductions to the various characters is presented here through interviews with the cast played out over footage of their characters. (It is notable that Ryan Reynolds provides all the commentary about the FBI characters, but there is no comment from either Ray Liotta or Andy Garcia) There isn’t a lot of deep material here. But it does become obvious that one team of assassins, the “Tremor Brothers”, owe more than a small debt to the legendary “Hanson Brothers” from SLAP SHOT.

• Big Gun – (11:53) An abbreviated anamorphic featurette centered on Joe Carnahan, this crosscuts between an interview with Carnahan and snippets of on-set video shot during production. Both the interview and the set video spotlight Carnahan at his best. The one crucial element of this documentary is Carnahan’s admission that the film was shot in 40 days – meaning that the production schedule was limited and intense. There are no indications in this documentary of how this affected the cast or crew. If the viewer is looking for a warts-and-all view of the shoot, they will not find it here.

• SHOOT ‘EM UP – (4:52) The final anamorphic featurette features a little information about how the cast dealt with the massive amount of gunfire in the film. There’s a little video footage of Ray Liotta rehearsing with the guns, and a few interviews with the rest of the cast heard over footage from the set and the film. The primary note of the featurette is that Joe Carnahan prefers setups where you can see the gunfire and squibs and bullet hits erupt within the same shot. He’s absolutely right on this count – it definitely helps to try to get all the elements to play within a single shot. Otherwise, you wind up with the typical TV show basketball game – shot of actor shooting the ball, cut to insert of ball going through hoop. Getting it all within the master of the scene is more time consuming, but there’s nothing that will convince an audience with more authority of the realism of the scene.

A scene index is provided with 20 chapter stops for easy access. As is the usual for current Universal releases, no trailers for the film are included, but when you put the disc in the player, several other trailers will automatically play unless you hit the right button…


IN THE END...

SMOKIN’ ACES is ultimately a frustrating film, made with a talented cast that was ready to either make the caper comedy advertised on the DVD jacket or the more serious film that tries to emerge near the end. Joe Carnahan himself refers to the film as a kind of “platypus”, in that he finds it hard to quantify the film in any particular genre. It’s not a bad film – there’s too much talent on the screen for that – but it never makes up its mind what kind of film it wants to be. If you are curious about the film after seeing the trailers, I recommend renting it before purchasing.


Kevin Koster
April 19, 2007.

#2 of 3 Robert Anthony

Robert Anthony

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Posted April 19 2007 - 10:27 PM

I thought the disc was decently done, but as far as the movie goes, it feels like the season finale to a TV show I never got to watch.

#3 of 3 Ron Reda

Ron Reda

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Posted April 23 2007 - 07:52 AM

My wife and I both watched it and aside from a tad too much violence, we thought it was a good (not great) "mindless" movie in that it was entertaining but that's about it.
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