Smokin' Aces

Opens at Meridian and other theaters, Fri., Jan. 26. Rated R. 108 minutes

Writer-director Joe Carnahan's third and most elaborate feature presents as its anti-hero a glitzy stage magician–cum–mobster mascot turned mob kingpin, then FBI informer. Buddy "Aces" Israel (Jeremy Piven) is, as someone in this overstuffed baloney and ketchup sandwich puts it, "the great white whale of snitches." Every-one wants a piece of this joker's hide, which, given its rumored million-dollar price tag, makes the Lake Tahoe penthouse where he's laying low something of a magnet for a gaggle of competing hit squads. To add to the barbarism, the killers have orders to not just ice Israel but—page Mel Gibson—cut out his heart. Let the games begin. Aces has no particular narrative; it's basically a study in convergence as a vast assortment of FBI guys, hotel security men, SWAT teams, and killers of all varieties— including a clan of lunatic chain-saw neo-Nazi Mohawk-coiffed punks—fight, claw, and swarm their way up to Israel's suite. Self-important but not untalented, Aces is tonally consistent from beginning to end, and for all its bloody mayhem, kinetic nihilism, and jive minstrelsy, has a surprisingly light touch. What Carnahan's picture lacks in hilarity it recuperates with a well-developed, albeit mumbling, sense of the absurd. J. HOBERMAN

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