Mum: So, seen any films this week?
Me: Yeah. Smokin’ Aces.
Mum: Smoking Arses?
Me: No. Smokin’ Aces.
Mum: Smoking Anus?
Me: What is wrong with you??
I don’t know what I found more troubling about this exchange: uncovering my Mum’s newfound love of coprohiliac humour, or the fact that she thinks I spend my free time watching movies called Smoking Anus.
Anyway, that telephone conversation was the most entertaining thing that came out of sitting through Smokin’ Aces. Because it’s not good. And here comes the bit where I tell you why.
Smokin’ Aces is this year’s Lucky Number Slevin or Confidence. The kind of movie endlessly and irritatingly described in reviews as “Tarantinoesque” or “Post-Tarantino”. You know the kind of thing – a slew of extended cameos by stars and recognisable character actors dressed as over-stylised hipsters and hoodlums, peppering faux-hard-boiled dialogue with jarring pop-culture references, before everything descends into a melange of double-crosses and twists, bullets and blood all the way to the end credits.
But here’s the thing – Quentin Tarantino takes his love of genre films, whether they are blaxploitation movies or Shaw Brothers movies or heist movies, and not only pays homage to the very things he loves, but he also moulds them into exciting and resilient films that light up the screen and stand up in their own right. Tarantino’s movies may reference the past but they are resolutely modern or, even better, timeless. His inspirations and influences are clear for all to see, but his skill as a filmmaker elevate his films beyond simple retreads of the familiar. The difference between Quentin and Smokin’ Aces is the same as the difference between homage and plagiarism, passion and hackery, creativity and laziness.
What is Smokin’ Aces about? Well, it’s about fifteen minutes of clunky exposition distributed amongst the cast in tedious and unnecessary detail, replete with text flashing up on the screen to tell you who everybody is. You won’t care. Most of the cast are cannon-fodder anyway. The remaining hour and a half of the film is essentially the shootout at the end of True Romance stretched way past breaking point.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some small pleasures to be gleaned from Smokin’ Aces. There are odd moments of weirdness that made me smile, but nowhere near enough to sustain the entire movie. I’d watch Andy Garcia in pretty much anything. (I’m a sucker for that mellifluous Cuban lilt and that steely gaze). Jeremy Piven does his best with what he’s saddles with (but for me his finest hour will always be Very Bad Things). And yet again I’m impressed and frustrated with Ryan Reynolds. He is always very good in poor movies. He’s got a great screen presence and he can do comedy, whilst still having considerable “straight” acting chops. Kinda like a young Michael Keaton, with that same crazed intensity when he needs it. He was by far the best thing in Blade: Trinity. He was great in the passable Clerks knock-off Waiting. Someone needs to show some compassion and give this man a decent movie! Either that or fire his agent.
Other than that, Smokin’ Aces is hollow entertainment, all cordite and quips, but when the smoke finally clears, the biggest con is the one that swindled me out of 108 minutes that I’m never getting back.