Violet Meltzer, Acting Cheerleader, Urges Fake Boyfriend "Act! Act!"
In the past couple of days, I've seen some highly unlikely headlines in the news. They are as follows:
Quarter Million Dollar Necklace Stolen from Sam's Club
Actor Ryan Reynolds Opens New Film at Sundance
Sixty-Year-Old Woman Fends Off Cougar with Pen
Apparently, all of these stories are true, and I'll give you a nanosecond to guess which one I'm going to right about...ok then, Ryan Reynolds it is!
Jolanda, Andretta, and I went to see Smokin' Aces—Ryan Reynolds' new movie—today. It stars Ryan, Jeremy Piven, Ray Liotta, Alicia Keyes, and a host of other actors. As we were sitting in the theater, the preview for Oceans 13 came on, and that's a good place to draw similarities. Like the Oceans movies, Smokin' Aces is mostly an ensemble piece. Piven's "Aces" Israel has information to leak on a mob boss and the FBI (Reynolds, Liotta, and Ron Silver), a bailbondsman (Ben Affleck and co.), the mob, and a mess of bounty hunters (Keyes and others) are after him. The film plays out aspects of what he knows and is willing to spill against the movements of those who are after him.
Leaving out the interwoven plots, I'll talk about what I see as the movie's missteps. First, it seems to toggle between two moods; it is, at turns, flat and seriously gritty versus slick and peppy. The Bourne Identity franchise successfully pulls off the first while the Oceans franchise achieves the second. I'm not sure if this toggle can ever successfully occur—indeed, Happy Texas, Series 7, and Novocaine were all promising movies that never adequately oriented the audience within their suspension of disbelief. The questions at hand are these: do we care? If so, for whom? And how much? In Smokin' Aces, the flat, gritty parts don't seem placed correctly. People die in graphically horrible ways after which time the movie slides back into slickness, but the movie doesn't seem to justify either the violence or the slickness (the way, say, Pulp Fiction does). As a result the violence is a little gross without meaning, and the slickness isn't clever enough to be engaging.
My second minor point lies with Piven. While I always like him, I think that his portrayal of a magician here was off. I had the dubious honor of knowing a magician in undergrad, and they are really, really into their work. Piven didn't look as comfortable with the cards as I might have liked, and he never really seemed to capture the magic, even when using magic to try and escape death. Ok, ok, he was all coked up, but still.
Finally, and it pains me to say this, the movie mostly rests on the broad but still mediocre shoulders of my fake boyfriend, Ryan Reynolds. While the viewer is lost in the movie, a bit behind all the time, Reynolds anchors a large portion of the audience's knowledge. Also, he is meant to be the movie's moral compass, which we learn late in the movie. And his performance is...ok. While the element of suspense certainly needs to be maintained, I don't think that we are invested enough in his character and Ray Liotta's character to respond adequately to the denouement of the film. In a way, this could have played out a little more like The Usual Suspects (where the reveal is the money), I'll Sleep When I'm Dead (where the emotional connection of the characters is key). I mean, really, when Alicia Keyes as a wounded hooker being carried out of the hotel out-acts you, you know that something's wrong (see, "Affleck-ted," "bad actor").
All told, I liked the movie. I wanted to love the movie, but I didn't. Sometimes, when a movie falls into this spotty category of "could have been great,"it's more frustrating than when someting is merely pretty good. Better luck next time—smoke 'em if you got 'em.