The big bang

Smokin' Aces

Smokin' Aces offers us the worst of all worlds, setting things up and attempting to tie them together with miles of dull, droning exposition, while bombarding us with gratuitous ultra-violence edited with all the rhythmic elegance of a seizure.

The basic idea here is that we get to gawk at a slew of super-assassins, all competing to collect a sizeable bounty on Las-Vegas-entertainer-turned-Mafia-snitch Buddy "Aces" Israel (Jeremy Piven). Piven's character holes up in a penthouse suite with a seemingly endless supply of coke and hos, while the killers — a self-consciously "colorful" assortment of tough black chicks, cold-blooded masters of disguise and raving bully boys straight out of a Mad Max movie — knock off various FBI agents and each other as they advance upon their objective.

The movie's plot, such as it is, is little more than an excuse to put all of its characters together in a confined space and let them slice, dice and blast away at one another, culminating in a very noisy grand finale in which everyone runs around like headless chickens with chainsaws. The main influences here are obviously Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino, but writer-director Joe Carnahan lacks Ritchie's sense of style or Tarantino's gift of gab. The dialogue is largely lifeless and awkwardly delivered (with the notable exception of Jason Bateman, who makes the most of his virtual cameo), the action strictly cartoonish, and the last-minute Usual Suspects-esque attempt to make sense of the proceedings is, unintentionally, perhaps the most ludicrous sequence in the whole movie.

Smokin' Aces (R) Stars Jeremy Piven, Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia, Alicia Keys, Ray Liotta and Ryan Reynolds. Opens Jan. 26 at local theaters. 1.5 stars

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