As in Jeremy Piven, who I discussed here. His man-love with best bud John Cusack is allegedly on the rocks. I realize this rift could tear the very social fabric of America, so I don't want to take sides, but Piven strikes me as the one who's more naturally funny. Does that translate into his new movie, Smokin' Aces?
Not really. Piven plays Buddy "Aces" Israel, a Las Vegas magician and mob turncoat. He's made a deal to testify against a crime boss, who has in turn put a hit on him. At least four contract killing teams learn of the hit, and discover that he's hiding out in a penthouse suite of a Lake Tahoe casino, hedonistic and wasted.
The script is horrible. Nearly the first half hour of the film is exposition; we learn about Buddy's rise in organized crime as the camera jumps from FBI deputy director (Andy Garcia) to local bail bondsman (Ben Affleck) to assassin handler (Davenia McFadden). I suppose we needed the story in advance; once 20 or so characters converge in Tahoe, things just get bloody.
Violence is cheapened and glorified in a way I hadn't seen since Sin City, and this film can't even argue that it's trying to be art. It just feels like irresponsible filmmaking. Some audience members laughed as the fringe characters got more and more ridiculous. (White supremacist hitmen with chainsaws? The fetish-overloaded lawyer? That one-eyed, attention deficit preteen?)
But they weren't funny, just sad. I can appreciate dark humor, but this was all an actorly exercise to play immoral characters that just ring false. For much of the movie, almost no one seems to use their brain. You gravitate toward the few that do, like Buddy's henchman (Common) and potential assassin (Alicia Keys).
The last act focuses on a young FBI agent (Ryan Reynolds) who feels like a pawn amidst the unnecessary bloodshed, and threatens to pull the plug on the whole operation. By the end, in one of the film's only calm moments, he does the right thing and puts us all out of our misery. Advantage: Cusack.