Smokin’ Aces (2007)
Ryan Reynolds, Jeremy Piven, Ray Liotta, Ben Affleck, Alicia Keys, Andy Garcia, Jason Bateman, Peter Berg, Nestor Carbonell, Taraji P. Henson, Matthew Fox.
Written & Directed by Joe Carnahan.
Buddy “Aces” Israel (Piven) is a Las Vegas performer, now holed up in a Lake Tahoe hotel penthouse surrounded by hookers and cocaine. Having split a Vegas crime family in two when he decided to begin his own capers, Israel has acquired a sizable bounty on his head due to his knowledge of the Mob’s inner-workings. As his lawyer negotiates terms with the FBI, a gaggle of low-life’s descend on Israel’s hotel to blow his brains out and collect the reward. Caught in the middle are two agents (Reynolds and Liotta) who have no idea of the tumult to which they are about to become a part. Smokin’ Aces is another one of those Pulp Fiction-esque multiple character and plenty of guns and ammo kinds of thing – enjoyable to a point, yet ultimately derivative and forgettable. It suffers from overlength, a ridiculous ending and some annoyingly overblown characterisations, yet having said that, some of the performances are genuinely great (Bateman is hilarious) and the script, for the most part, is rather taut and amusing. So there is much to admire in Smokin’ Aces, but I dare say it wouldn’t win a hand against its influences.
Die Hard 4.0 (2008)
Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Timothy Olyphant, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Maggie Q and Kevin Smith.
Written by Mark Bomback.
Directed by Len Wiseman.
Ahh, John McClane. If there are terrorists about, he’s the guy you call. Even if you don’t call him, you can bet you’ll find him in the thick of the action by default. So when an older, but no less ass-kickin’ McClane is assigned one night to transport a young computer hacker named Matthew Farrell (Long) across town, bad guys are naturally waiting in the darkness to take them down. Before long, it is revealed that a disgruntled former employee of the NSA is using his knowledge to stage a ‘fire sale’, whereby all industry connected by computer is seized and under his control. Farrell is marked for he knows the score, and it’s now up to this young sidekick and the grizzled McClane to put a stop to the dastardly plan. OK, so we didn’t need another Die Hard film, and the Australian distributors needn’t have changed the name either from the superior US title Live Free Or Die Hard (what were they thinking?). But who cares? This is the kind of escapism that Hollywood does so well. A decent supporting cast lends plentiful villainy and humour, the action scenes are wonderfully handled by director Wiseman (Underworld) and whilst credibility slips on occasion, it’s tough not to enjoy watching Willis in the character he has, since 1988, totally owned.
Shoot ‘Em Up (2008)
Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Monica Bellucci, Stephen McHattie.
Written & Directed by Michael Davis.
The enigmatic Mr Smith (Owen) saves an infant after her mother is gunned down. Mr Smith (not to be confused with the Brad Pitt character of the same name) obviously has some experience with guns, and when he takes it on the lam from a ruthless thug named Hertz (Giamatti) with the baby and a lactating hooker named Donna (Bellucci) in tow, he has plenty of opportunity to showcase his talent. With these two lead actors and Monica’s breasts, you’d think that this would be a winning combination. And you’d be right…and wrong. For this silly movie is not only aware of its audaciously indulgent nature, it revels in it with crazy gunfight after crazy gunfight. But too much rollercoaster and not enough ferris wheel can make one giddy. Giamatti serves up his most outrageous performance to date, chewing the scenery and stealing the show. Owen gives us his brooding Sin City thing and Bellucci has nothing to do except look sexy (which would, frankly, usually be enough).
(Wadrick Jones is a freelance writer for GritFX and posts weekly film reviews on this blog.)