Monday, July 16, 2007

Smokin' Aces (2007)

A strange, strange film: One one hand, Joe Carnahan's hyperbolic neo-noir pastiche fits pretty comfortably into the obnoxious lad genre that has given us films like Snatch and Lucky Number Slevin, but on the other hand, it often functions as an autopsy of said genre. For one thing, it's a film that treats death not as something to be used for sport but to be respected and feared -- the killings in this film are generally brutal, painful and bloody, infused with a sad fatalism ("We're all dying.") that takes the smirking nihilism promised by the flashy, exposition-drenched opening fifteen minutes and turns it inside out. Even in a situation where Carnahan finds humor in death -- say, the scene where one of the neo-Nazi punks carries on a conversation with a recently deceased man by working his jaw like a puppet -- it's of a darker, more plaintive stripe than one usually finds in this genre (the punk is asking the dead man for forgiveness). But the general depiction of the neo-Nazis, outsized and grotesque as they are, is symptomatic of how Carnahan trips up his own material by offering concessions to the perceived audience. Whenever he goes for the flashy wackiness, like with the Nazis or the intolerable Ritalin kid, it rings hollow like his heart's not in it. He's trying to do something different within the confines of the cooler-than-thou shoot-em-up, and I appreciate that, but the mash-up between hyperstyle and ruminatory depression is an ill fit; Carnahan is to be commended for recognizing that, even in disposable films like this, actions should still have consequences, but it's a shame he didn't apply that to his vacillating tone. Only the last ten minutes, when Carnahan makes a rare nod to the concept that there are things, larger forces, at work beyond the hermetic character-driven worlds often set up within this genre, leading up to a devastating act of free will by a character no longer interested in serving the needs of the labyrinthine plot, really sing. The crushed look on said character's face in the film's last shot almost makes the film worth the slog. (Jason Bateman's invaluably funny performance, self-deprecatory in an ocean of macho, also deserves notice.)

Grade: C+


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