If you like your violence to be action-coated with a veneer of dark humor to help it go down smoothly, then pick up a six pack and a copy of "Smokin' Aces." Maybe you oughta make that two six-packs, since you'll probably feel compelled to watch the film a second time anyway. Then again, maybe the beer is a bad idea, since it may inhibit your ability to comprehend the storyline. Hell, I was sober as a judge, and I found myself hitting rewind at least four times, trying to figure out who was killing whom, and why they were doing it. "Smokin' Aces" pulls its audience in so many directions simultaneously that you'll feel as stretched as Gumby at a tractor pull.
The plot concerns itself with Buddy "Aces" Israel, a Vegas magician who gets intimately involved with the mob, but somehow turns state's witness. While he is holed up in a penthouse suite, the `organization' places a highly publicized and highly valuable contract on his head (or more accurately, his heart - the mob boss wants his second most valuable organ removed). As a result, every psychotic, money-hungry lunatic rushes to compete for the prize. While the premise suggests that a sense of humor is essential to the storyline, the plot is actually much more gruesome than I had expected. More than once, I couldn't decide to laugh or wince as the blood sprayed abundantly. Between the flying bullets, plot twists pile up as fast as the body count.
As "Aces" Israel, Jeremy Piven manages some of the rawest, reddest eyes I have ever seen outside of a medical marijuana center. Ben Affleck and Andy Garcia provide star power, but major props must go to singer-turned-actress Alicia Keys. As if being mentioned as a lust object in a Bob Dylan song weren't enough in 2006, she also manages to own this movie every time her bewigged character appears onscreen.
While many movies combine plot twists and blood, few of them resemble the crimson-tainted pretzel of "Smokin' Aces." Perhaps if you cross "Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead" with "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels," you'll get some idea of what to expect - lots of dead bodies (more than either of the above, and probably more than both combined), an array of insane characters, a great cast, and a monumentally confusing plot. To add to the confusion, the DVD offers alternate endings and plenty of out-takes - enough to keep you busy while waiting for the beer buzz to wear off. B+ Tom Ryan