Smokin’ Aces (2006) — Too many hit men to care

“You shot me, and you murdered my friends… and you dumped us in the lake.”

Justin’s rating: This represents a lot of failed parenting, if you ask me

Justin’s review: Face it: Somewhere along the road, probably around the 1930s, America got itself wedded and bedded to the gangster concept in a big way. We see this fascination when people mock morally-upright shows like 7th Heaven (okay, to be fair, that name is totally asking for it), but then get all serious and squinty when The Sopranos come up in conversation, and they nod and go “Hmm” and pontificate on the ramifications of psychological bullet wounds.

Why do we fetishize gangsters? And also, just for fun, the hit men who work for them?

If you’re looking to me like a lost puppy dog in dire need for a home before a giant buzzard swoops down and makes you into a regurgitated meal for its youngsters, head elsewhere. I’m stumped. I might be considered wise to some alien cultures, but there’s no chance that I can wrap my mind around why we all but throw national holidays in celebration for organized crime and all of its lovely facets. Hollywood literally can’t say “No” to any scriptwriter who comes to an office with the phrase “gangster hit man who’s just misunderstood and is a real person with real needs, too.”

Yet no matter what argument they come up with to humanize these folks, they can all be refuted with, “Yeah, but you murder people.” I don’t care if you nurse half-dead baby seals to life in your spare time, you have the blood of sentient citizens on your hands — and the tell-tale heart knows your name.

So we end up with thousands of movies about people killing without remorse, drugs battling boogers for room in noses, and an inexplicable swarm of bikini models that erupt from every mobster’s pool as if hopping from water source to water source in an attempt to swim up the cash stream and mate with someone who most certainly will never slap them on the back of their head with the flat of a shovel. If I understood this phenomenon at all, we might have a chance to stop it.

Smokin’ Aces shatters its vertebrae trying to bend in all sorts of directions to (1) give us a gangster movie, (2) throwing in a really cool hit man, (3) heck, how about TEN cool hit men!, (4) well, at least two of them are female, so let’s not quibble over the terminology, (5) Ben Affleck and the worst facial hair that Affleck has sported since Chasing Amy, and (6) good cops battling bad cops.

I don’t think I was sure, at any point, what this movie wanted me to feel. Was I supposed to laugh at the black comedy of two guys stabbing and shooting each other in a macabre dance of death in an elevator? Was I supposed to feel deeply sorry for Jeremy Piven as he kept flicking cards everywhere and looking depressed? Was I supposed to go, “Dude! Neo-Nazis! I gots to get me some of that!”?

To make me more confused, we’re supposed to find Ryan Reynolds as a suitable FBI action hero. Like many comedians who are deeply insecure about their chosen profession, Reynolds seems compelled to branch out of comedy and into an entirely unrelated field. He might be crying over the loss of his partner, but you can’t look him in the eye after that, and end up idly wondering if you should’ve just put in Van Wilder after all.

This is really just a small story stretched out over a lengthy screen time. There’s hardly enough action or plot to cover it all, although the twisted reversal on It’s A Mad Mad Mad World’s race-to-the-treasure theme warranted a few sly moments. I’ve always wondered if professional assassins need a “thing” to break into that field, or if you can also be a generic, company assassin who lacks an eyepatch, a compulsive desire to paint nursery rhymes in blood on the walls of their victims, or a cat companion who is the secret brains of the outfit.

If you find out, please tell me. At long distance.

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