Smokin' Aces

"Lighten up!"

It's not the witty Departed or the verbally abusive Reservoir Dogs, but Smokin' Aces is bloodier than both and may rival Dogs and even Pulp Fiction for amusing absurdity. Aces is aces for a kind of sick mayhem that can be funny, often because of the street trash talk and off-the-wall plot.

The film traces several hit men and women converging on a Lake Tahoe resort where a notorious gangster is dying but calling for the heart of rival Buddy "Aces" Israel (Jeremy Piven) for $1 million. It's a Mad Mad Mad World with guns and much badder guys, a treasure hunt that brings in FBI agents, hookers, and international stars of the mob world.

Director Joe Carnahan doesn't have the finesse of Quentin Tarantino, yet he does have a deft hand at making violence interesting. The color saturation by cinematographer Mauro Fiore is pure comic book Frank Miller, and the quick-cutting action of editor Robert Frazen seems to know how perfectly to hold a scene and leave it for the most tension and excitement. Carnahan also brings out the sexy danger in Alicia Keys and the cool in Ray Liotta, to name a couple of the more sympathetic and underplaying principals.

Yes, this is adolescent, testosterone-fed fantasy, but that doesn't make it dull. It's an absurd take on our lust for screen violence that happens to satisfy that craving like a late-night White Castle. For those who trash this trash for being random and ruleless bang-bang cinema, I say, "Lighten up!"