Ace in the hole, where it belongs

Director Joe Carnahan doesn’t play his cards right in the action comedy ‘Smokin’ Aces’

Michael Garberich

Here’s a joke for ya: two FBI agents, their director, an aging Mafioso, two lesbians, a couple of ex-cops, three punk rock neo-Nazis, a Latino torture artiste, a mysterious master of disguise, an even more mysterious “Swede,” some prostitutes, some henchmen and a Vegas entertainer-turned-gangsta-turned-wash-up all walk into a bar Ö

“Smokin’ Aces”
DIRECTED BY: Joe Carnahan
STARRING: Ryan Reynolds, Jeremy Piven, Ray Liotta
RATED: R
SHOWING AT: Area theaters

The punch line: “Smokin’ Aces.” It’s 30-something director Joe Carnahan’s (“Narc”) frenetic, undisciplined, kill-’em-however-you-can series of unfortunate attempts at cohesion. Its story (kind of) is more disparate and clichéd than its hand-me-down cast, and its utter lack of irony makes it all the sadder.

“Aces” is a case study in mindless, unapologetic delinquency, with a misplaced sprig of fraternal sensitivity reminiscent of, and separate from, likely inspirers Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese (and dude, that ain’t a crew whose list you want off).

Separate because Tarantino has “Pulp Fiction” and Scorsese has “Mean Streets,” but reminiscent because, like every wannabe badass mofo since Jules Winnfield, it struts with its big guns like some two-bit believing he’s cooler than cool. Is that money? Are those guns? Is that a semen joke? Funny. Are you laughing yet?

But back to the punch line.

Jeremy Piven plays Buddy “Aces” Israel – a card-throwing, drug-addled version of his hubristic megalomaniac Ari Gold on “Entourage” – who’s granted protection by the FBI (Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia) so he can expose mob leader Sparazza.

They lodge him in a penthouse on Lake Tahoe with a couple of bodyguards, the mob slaps a huge price tag on him for whichever assassin (and all have been summoned) offs him, and the rest is an exercise in convergence, climaxing in a gratuitous, orgiastic shootout that leaves a lot of blood on the walls and smoke in the air, as well as an undeniable sense of dissatisfaction.

The long list of characters, already superfluous, dwindles early and often, and the entire premise is offset by – you guessed it – A Big Twist! Although by this point you a) have already guessed it; and b) don’t care.

“Aces” is a procedural for the impatient, a shooter for the Ritalin generation and – billed as an action/comedy/crime-drama/thriller – it’s perfect for the drunk and disorderly.

Accordingly, the ensuing headache, loss of appetite and general repulsion at its mention the next morning is normal. Take an aspirin, lie down and forget about it.