HD DVD Title: Smokin’ Aces (Combo)
Screen format: 1080P 2.35:1 (VC-1 Compression)
First theatrical release: January 26, 2007
Previously released on DVD/BluRay: Day and Date with Widescreen & Full screen DVDs
Director: Joe Carnahan
Starring: Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia, Alicia Keys, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven, Ryan Reynolds,
Sound Formats: English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1
Length: 1 Hour, 49 Minutes
Subtitles: English, French
Relative newcomer to directing Joe Carnahan follows up Narc with a wild smash in Smokin’ Aces. Part cop buddy flick, part action movie, part madcap race to destruction, Aces is filled with as many homages to great films as it is packed with a fantasticly varied but incredibly talented cast.
Vegas magician Buddy 'aces' Israel (Piven) pictures himself quite the player in his sideline as a wiseguy. Aces has gotten himself pinched tho, and is turning states evidence against his goodfella buddies, and is sequestered in a Reno hotel awaiting further questioning. The mob has placed a bounty on Ace's head, and the big boss has called out a specialist to track Buddy down and bring him his heart! Word leaks to the street and soon enough a half dozen different crews are working on tracking Aces down in anticipation of collecting the bounty. Add to this a rogue element in the FBI working to get to Aces out of the picture and the race is on to get to him first.
While comparisons to any number of Quentin Tarantino films, the Ocean's XX series, or recent British crime capers such as Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch are inevitable, and to be clear the shout outs to these and a vast array of other films are shameless, Smokin' Aces is truly a fun romp and manages to be wholly original despite its influences. The simple choice of having such an amazingly varied and talented ensemble cast where it's not quite clear whom one should be rooting for makes for compelling viewing. Add to this a series of imaginative gun battles, wild characters, and a sense of karmic justice and Aces rolls up as a total winner with something missing in many films these days: a truly satisfying ending.
Sound Quality: 5/5
As noted above, the gun battles in Aces are magnificently orchestrated and this is particularly so because of the fantastic attention to detail in the sound department. It is strangely satisfying hearing a .50 caliber rip a hotel apart room by room from a block away or the gutting of a psychotic thug by having his chain saw let loose in ways he didn't envision. That Aces punctuates these by setting them in the midst of a absolute whirlwind of surround effects doesn't detract from their effectiveness one bit.
Aces contains easily one of the most active surround tracks I have ever heard, as music, dialogue, and environmental components are all reproduced in an enveloping dome that leaves no speaker silent for long during its run. Bass is likewise tight and carefully managed in this mix, as the jazzy score gets a great deal of attention through out and then kicks into overdrive during the battle sequences.
Note that the sound track is quite varied, with tracks ranging from Prodigy to Motorhead to Ennio Morricone. But it is the original sounds from Clint Mansell that really hold this film together. They are bass heavy, groovy toe tappin funk. It is really saying something that they would hold attention in the film even if it didn't have the terrific sounding gun battles for viewers to focus on.
Visual Quality: 4.5/5
In the visual department, the first thing that is notable is the intentional use of film grain and clipped blacks. While these choices are obviously carried over from the theatrical prints they do take a bit of getting used to, but do not detract from the otherwise excellent qualities that the film stock contains, all of which are captured in startling detail in this transfer. Besides the clipped blacks, Aces is a quite colorful film, and the glitz of Reno casinos and desert scenery come through with slick clarity. Sharpness is likewise very crisp, tho some scenes especially those in the dark confines of the police vans seemed to be more sharp than good for Mr. Liotta. This doesn't mean to imply that there was ringing or other artifacts caused by digital manipulation, it is just that the gritty blacks and sharpness combine to provide a stark look that isn't always pretty, and that's really the point. I did not notice a single fleck of dust or scratching, this is a very clean print that was well cared for during its transfer.
Extra Features: 5/5
Smokin' features a great pile of extras that is all the more incredible because while most are found on the Day and Date standard Def DVD versions, there's also a batch that is exclusively available through the use of the U-control feature. Readers of my past reviews will recall my hatred for this technology, especially when content that is contained in there is not also available via direct menu control. That hasn't changed. U-control is still a nightmare to use, requires viewers to watch a film multiple times all the way through to get the most out of, and its contents are not directly accessable from a menu. Boo. However flipping through the first few minutes of the behind the scenes looks revealed just how much fun Carnahan had making this film and his enthusiasm was infectious. There is also a 'track the goons' GPS style pop up that helps you see where all the parties are at any point in the story which is totally weak.
The regular extra features are all solid inclusions: TWO commentary tracks, four (wisely) deleted scenes, an alternate ending which completely would not have worked, and 3 featurettes. Of these featurettes 'The big gun' is the most traditional behind the scenes look and is a good source of anecdotes and insiht into the mood that the cast and crew were in during filming. 'The Line Up' goes a little bit more in detail into each of the crews running down Aces, and is just enough to remind you who each was and what their basic story is, but each of them are so interesting that a full featurette would have been necessary to really cover them, especially for the Tremor Brothers. Apparently there is tons of even more director's diary type material and we can only hope that a true special edition will follow up this release down the road.
Overall: 4.5/5 (not an average)
Talking to a lot of fellow film fans and friends around the neighborhood, it seems that Smokin' Aces is a surprise hit and one that could go on to be an under the radar classic. It features a TON of memorable characters, includes the acting debuts of Alicia Keys and Common (Both of whom were just great, and hardly showed their lack of experience!) and contains a lot of quotable lines that are sure to be parroted and parodied by folks like us who simply love quirky films that take on lives of their own. It doesn't hurt that it contains a reference quality sound track and a pretty decent video transfer, a mess of extras and a cast whose performances blows away some of their more mainstream roles simply because they took some risks in actually having FUN with their parts.
For these reasons Smokin' Aces gets a definite 'Recommended' from me. You can't go wrong with a film like this, intended to be watched by a room full of buddies with a few pints, laughing at the motley bunch of cons and feds trying to outwit each other to bring a strung out magician down. Even if it doesn't live up to my prediction as a classic, it's simply good fun and that's in short supply these days.