“Make It Make Sense.”

I was supposed to rent The Stepford Wives, but I wanted something sillier and action-heavy. I wanted explosions and swearing. I wanted something ridiculous with a capital R.

So I got this instead.

It’s sort of a hot mess, but at least it’s fun.

SUMMARY:

Buddy Israel (Jeremy Piven) is a Las Vegas magician/prospective snitch. Mob Boss Primo Sparazza wants Buddy dead, and he wants Buddy’s heart for good measure. With a million dollars on the table, a ton of bounty hunters, assassins, and psychotic killers come out of the woodwork, all looking to get to Buddy first. FBI Agents Carruthers and Messner (Ray Liotta and Ryan Reynolds) are the lucky guys in charge of keeping him alive.

NOTES:

1. This is actually the second time I’ve seen this movie, and I liked it better this time around. It still has some problems—even for the kind of action-on-crack movie it is—but it’s enjoyable enough and funny and even kind of smart in a weird way. Just uneven. Definitely uneven.

2. Here is your cast: Jeremy Piven, Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta, Ben Affleck, Martin Henderson, Taraji P. Henson, Alicia Keys, Common, Andy Garcia, Kevin Durand, Chris Pine, Maury Sterling, Nestor Carbonell, Matthew Fox, Tommy Flanagan, and Jason Bateman.

You’ll forgive me if I don’t talk about ALL of them.

3.) Let’s start with our FBI agents.

Ray Liotta pretty much plays Ray Liotta to me. I mean, he isn’t bad or anything. He certainly doesn’t have a ton of character to work with. I’ve just never been a huge Ray Liotta fan. He has one scene with Nestor Carbonell that I like a lot, and his rapport with Ryan Reynolds seems okay. I just don’t have that much to say about him.

I do like Ryan Reynolds in this, though. He has a little more to work with than Liotta, and I think he handles it well. I really enjoy some of his later scenes with Andy Garcia. It’s also worth mentioning that this is one of the least snarky roles Reynolds has probably ever done. There isn’t a lot of winking at the camera or leaning back and smirking. He plays the role straight. Kudos for him.

4. I also must give up some massive props to the Tremor brothers.

Is it shameful to say that I would probably watch a spinoff movie with these three characters? Well, that’s okay. I have no pride, anyway.

Seriously, the Tremor brothers (Darwin, Jeeves, and Lester, respectively) are totally psychotic in the best of ways. Of the three of them, Chris Pine gets the most to do, and he makes me laugh out loud a couple of times here . . . although watching this film is not a bad way of getting over your Chris Pine lust. Hysterical, yes. Hot, no. Dirty, hillbilly, Neo-Nazis just aren’t very sexy, no matter how pretty their eyes are.

Also, you’ve gotta love Kevin Durand, who’s rocking a two foot tall black mohawk when he’s already, like, eight feet tall. Seriously, if I was a boy, I would totally find two guy friends and dress up as the Tremor Brothers for Comic Con or something. That could be ridiculously fun.

Bah. Boys get all the good costumes.

5. So, one of the problems I have with Smokin’ Aces is that it gets so wrapped up in being cuhraaaaaaaaazy that the pace of the film completely slows down to accommodate the oh-so-outrageous characters who aren’t really very important to the plot anyway. Case in point: Jason Bateman.

Even for a site called My Geek Blasphemy, giving Jason Bateman a thumbs down seems frankly more heretical than I’m really comfortable with. I normally like Bateman a lot, I really do, but . . . I was thoroughly bored with his small part here, and the time the film spends on him slurring about nonsense or dressing in women’s underwear, it could have been spending on unrepentant violence! There are way too many assassins and subplots in this film to be wasting time on side characters who don’t matter, and if I’d had the say-so, I’d have dropped Jason Bateman’s character in a hot second. (I feel similarly about the scenes with Ritalin Kid and his Strange Grandma. They’re really only funny in the way that they’re bizarre, and I would prefer to spend that time with people being torn in half by chainsaws, thanks.)

6. Which brings me to my other problem with the film—pacing and editing.

When you have ten or so main players in your story, you’ve got a lot of ground to cover, especially if most of them are split up or paired off like they are in Smokin’ Aces. The problem here isn’t that the action scenes are bad . . . some of them are quite good . . . but that they start and stop, start and stop, without much fluidity to bridge them together.

Let me try to give you an example. Character A and Character B are in an elevator. Character A realizes Character B is a bad guy. Character A gets very tense, as should the audience. But then we cut away to Character C and Character D in their own tense battle. And then Character E is talking to Characters F and G for five minutes about some problem he has. And then Character H is doing fuckknowswhat godknowswhere, and by the time you get back to Character A and B, it’s like fifteen minutes later and they’re still in the fucking elevator, and all of the tension has completely faded away.

Like I said before, the individual scenes by themselves aren’t bad at all. Most of them are a lot fun, actually, particularly any action sequence featuring the Tremor brothers. But with so many different things happening at once, your adrenaline should be pumping more and more as everything starts to come together . . . only that’s not what happens. I often feel like the story grinds to a halt while two characters try to catch up to where everyone else is in the storyline. It’s not enough of a problem that I dislike the movie, obviously, but it’s definitely an issue, causing the whole film to suffer from some kind of weird lack of energy. For an action-on-crack movie? Yeah, that’s bad.

7. On the upside, there is Taraji P. Henson.

Taraji, with Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys is by no means bad in this movie (and while we’re talking about singers turned actors, Common’s decent enough himself) but Taraji puts heart into this role, in a way that should probably make the other actors in this film feel a little of ashamed of themselves or, at the very least, deeply envious. Seriously, she’s playing one half of a black lesbian assassin duo. This so easily could have been, hell, should have been, a caricature, and yet Taraji P. Henson just acts the holy hell out of this role, like, Screw you, bitches. Guess who’s going to have an Oscar nomination in a few years? HA!

8. As for Jeremy Piven . . .

. . . he annoys me a lot less the second time around. Actually, Piven makes me feel a little bad for Buddy, something that I really wasn’t expecting going into the film. With a better understanding of where the movie’s going, I could appreciate Piven’s scenes more, and I certainly think he acts them well enough. That being said, I do think he gets a little more screen time to chew the carpet than is, strictly speaking, necessary. At least he’s more relevant than Jason Bateman or Ritalin Kid. Still, scenes where he’s covering up one eye and staring at the mirror like a crazy person could have been time better spent on Nestor Carbonell killing people.

9. Randomly, Andy Garcia’s accent changes wildly throughout this movie. He sounds more or less normal in the beginning, and then as the film goes on, he abruptly changes into . . . southern? Is that supposed to be southern? Did anyone else laugh wildly at this?

10. Finally, pacing and accent problems aside, Smokin’ Aces has possibly one of my favorite movie endings of all time. Seriously, the final scene? I love this final scene. I love the acting. I love the tone. I love, love, love the music. I need to hire Clint Mansell to come by and score my fucking life. Honestly.

If you want to know what happened in that ending (as well as the rest of the film) continue onward . . .

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

There’s a bunch of backstory that’s important to talk about, but I’m going to talk about it later. There’s way too much stuff to cover here, and my eyes are tired as is.

So. The first person to bite it is Ben Affleck. Ben Affleck only makes it a half hour into the film, which, love. (Not because I have a big problem with Ben Affleck. It’s just, he was one of the only big names when this movie came out. I love it when movies kill off big names early in the story and defy expectation.) Ben and his buddies are pulled over on the side of the road, going over the plan to extract Buddy Israel, when the Tremor brothers drive by and kill them for the hell of it. (Actually, Hollis {Martin Henderson} survives, but we don’t know that yet.)

While Lester and Jeeves are fucking around, Darwin Tremor straddles Ben Affleck’s dead body and starts having a conversation with it. He actually moves Ben Affleck’s lips around to say stuff like, “You know, up here in Heaven, it’s beautiful. I’m gonna see you up here someday.” And Darwin gets a little emotional and thanks Dead Ben for his kindness.

Hee hee hee hee hee. Love. SUPER love.

Messner goes to investigate the crime scene, while Carruthers goes ahead to the hotel where Buddy’s holed up at. Buddy is not having a good day. Even his own people want to kill him. One of these people is Sir Ivy (Common), who Buddy backstabs in order to secure his deal with the government. Unfortunately, Ivy knows. Also, Lazlo Soot (Tommy Flanagan), an assassin with a serious penchant for disguises, has killed one of Buddy’s henchmen so that he can make a mold of his face and impersonate him. I guess it’s fair to say that Buddy’s henchmen aren’t having a very good day, either.

Buddy, after babbling like a coked out, crazy person, stops Ivy from killing him by flicking one of his poker cards at Ivy’s eye. I love how that works in movies. Security comes in and takes half-blinded Ivy away. Unfortunately for Buddy, that only takes care of one of the ten people currently trying to kill him.

Other people who are trying to kill him: Georgia Sykes and Sharice Watters (Alicia Keys and Taraji P. Henson). Sykes comes in to the hotel with a bunch of prostitutes while Watters is stationed in the hotel across the street with her collection of giant ass guns. The Tremor brothers have also arrived at the hotel—dressed in the Security outfits that they stole from Ben Affleck’s crew—and get ready for mass carnage in one of the elevators. And in another elevator are Carruthers and Acosta (Nestor Carbonell). Acosta is secretly a badass who knows a little something about torture and death, but he’s pretending to be Bill, the slow-witted head of security.  The real Bill is Matthew Fox and, also, quite dead, which is so awesome for all of us LOST fans out there. Richard kills Jack! Richard kills Jack! YES!!!!

Anyway, Acosta and Carruthers are in the elevator—the slowest moving elevator in all of existence, mind you—when Carruthers realizes that Acosta’s a bad guy. (He’s an assassin so hardcore that he chewed the skin off his fingertips, like, ouch.) Carruthers shoots the shit out of Acosta, and Acosta shoots the shit out of Carruthers . . . and skewers him with this fancy blade that he has up his sleeve. It’s very quick and very messy.

Sykes finds them later and starts searching their bodies, trying to figure out what’s going on. Unfortunately, that’s when Messner and his fellow agents come up, trapping Sykes in the elevator. A lot of stuff happens quickly, so I apologize if I get things a little out of order. Watters starts shooting the shit out the agents so that Sykes can manage to escape. Sykes does so, but not before the Not-Quite-Dead Acosta skewers her with his fancy sword thing. Not-Quite-Dead Carruthers shoots Acosta again. Watters tries to see if Sykes is alive, but Sykes’s radio equipment is busted and can’t hear her.

Messner finds Carruthers, who stays alive long enough to pretty much die in his arms. Meanwhile, Watters sees a dead prostitute on the floor and assumes that it’s Sykes. This is where Taraji P. Henson tries her damndest to make you cry over a shoot-em-up action movie. Seriously, her grief is ridiculously palpable, and you kind of want to give her a big hug. The intercutting between her and Messner, also grieving, is really well done, and gives this movie a very surprising amount of emotional depth.

Then, because Watters is an assassin, after all, she decides to take her revenge by screaming and shooting at all the agents again. She is unbelievably badass.

Meanwhile—and presumably on another floor—the Tremor brothers leave their elevator and run into all the guards and agents escorting Ivy out of the hotel. (When smoke starts billowing out of the elevator, Ivy warily backs away. I like Ivy.) The Tremor brothers shootout scene is awesome but deserves to be a lot longer. Lester Tremor gets shot to death, I think, and Jeeves Tremor is taken out by his own chainsaw. Technically, I think Ivy shoots him so he falls on his own chainsaw, but the lesson remains: chainsaws are never as good of an idea as they sound, kids. Remember that. Darwin is about to kill Ivy, but Sykes, of all people, rescues him. Darwin runs off. Ivy picks up Sykes and carries her down the stairwell.

Back to Buddy. His day continues to get worse after Andy Garcia looks at some secret file that we don’t get to see and decides to completely revoke Buddy’s deal with the government, no explanations given. Buddy starts crying and thinks about shooting himself in the head but passes out before he can do so. Lazlo Soot prepares a bunch of tools. They look very ominous.

Messner meets Ivy and Sykes in the stairwell, but lets them go after she promises she didn’t kill his partner. I guess he believes her? Or maybe he just isn’t interested in a shootout with Ivy. I can understand that. Messner gets to the penthouse in time to run off Soot, who escapes unharmed. A lot of the assassins escape, actually, at least for a little while. Darwin Tremor pretends to be an FBI agent and runs out of the hotel sobbing—I started cracking up so hard at that point. I love you, Darwin! Also, Not-Quite-Dead Acosta is still kicking—everyone else thinks he’s dead, but we see that nifty blade again, so we know he’s still alive. Jesus. Acosta is like Catwoman or something, I swear.

Darwin makes it to the parking lot, but he runs into Hollis. For most of the movie, Hollis has been stuck with a kooky grandma and this kid:

Needless to say, his whole storyline is useless plot filler. The only important things to know: he’s missing some fingers, he’s pissed, and he has a gun. This is not a good combination for Darwin, who’s very matter of fact about what he’s done, apologizes to Hollis, and then offers up some helpful philosophy: “Shit gets wild and crazy. Fate just . . . fate just up and fucks you for no good reason. You know, it’s the way of the world. Way it’s always going to be.” He even throws in a helpful pat on Hollis’s shoulder. Have I mentioned that I kind of love Darwin? Yes, well, Hollis understandably doesn’t. He lets him get about twenty feet away before casually shooting him in the back multiple times. Bye, Darwin!!!

Finally, the last assassin to be killed iiiiiiiiis . . . Watters. She lives long enough to see Ivy carrying Sykes out of the building before a team of agents sneak up from behind and kill her. It’s very sad. I always feel a little bad for Watters.

At the end, Messner storms up to FBI Boss Guy Andy Garcia and demands to know what in the holy fuck is going on and why he and Carruthers weren’t informed that Buddy Israel’s deal had been torn up. Andy Garcia is all, “Mum’s the word!”  until Messner pulls his gun. I know I mentioned this before, but Ryan Reynolds is decidedly not snarky or Ryan Reynolds-esque here. He’s just pissed. It’s not a bad look on him.

Andy Garcia delivers the plot twist in that horribly mangled attempt at Southern. (I don’t even understand it. Was he actually trying for that accent earlier? Did I miss it? Why the hell is it even necessary in the first place?) It turns out that Primo Sparazza, the mob boss, is actually an undercover FBI agent, Heller, from way the hell back who was presumed dead. (He was presumed dead, mind you, because the FBI thought he was dirty and tried to kill him.) Heller lived, however, and had a shitload of cosmetic work done. He ended up taking over the mob and fathering a bastard son . . . Buddy Israel. And since Primo’s heart is giving out, he needs a new one, specifically, Buddy’s.

And you thought you had issues with your dad.

This plot twist sounds absolutely fucking nuts on paper, and indeed on first viewing I was definitely like what the fuuuuck . . . But on second viewing, the whole twist seems so obvious that I’m a little annoyed I didn’t catch it the first time around. It also makes Buddy Israel’s freakouts and talking about deceit and illusions a lot more bearable. You do get to feel a bit bad for Buddy Israel. He doesn’t strike me as the nicest guy . . . but his daddy wants to kill him for his heart. That’s pretty freaking cold.

Andy Garcia plans to go through with the transplant in order to get decades worth of mafia information. Also, he wants to “save Heller”. Messner thinks this is some fucked up bullshit—he’s not wrong—and is aghast that his partner is dead because the government wants to save the life of this mob boss who probably won’t give the FBI shit. Andy Garcia leaves Messner alone with Primo and Buddy Israel, both who are comatose and on life support.

This is a bad idea.

Clint Mansell’s, “Dead Reckoning,” plays as Messner locks the door to the hospital room, unplugs Buddy and Primo’s life support, and sits down in a chair, laying his badge and his gun down on the floor as the agents and doctors unsuccessfully try to bust their way in. And . . . that’s the end. That’s Smokin’ Aces.

The movie has problems . . . but I heart that ending something fierce.

CONCLUSIONS:

Fun, crazy action movie with just a little too much going on. Great cast but some serious pacing and editing problems. Good story. Good music. Great end.

MVP:

Taraji P. Henson . . . but honorable mentions to Ryan Reynolds and Chris Pine.

TENTATIVE GRADE:

B

MORAL:

Don’t get involved with the mafia. It won’t end well for anybody. Also, don’t leave a furious, grief-stricken man alone with people he doesn’t believe deserve to live. Never a good idea.

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2 Responses to “Make It Make Sense.”

  1. Macabre says:

    I saw this in while it was in theaters, but I had forgotten it even existed until I was flipping channels the other day and came across it. I was like, “Oh, yeah, that movie.”

    I second the idea about the Tremor brothers deserving a spin-off. They were by far the best part of the movie. Their scene with Ben Affleck was hilarious. I’m a little surprised to learn from your review that it was Chris Pine. I had no idea who Chris Pine was back then, though.

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