DVD Review: Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassin’s Ball

Hi all…

Back in 2006, the movie Smokin’ Aces introduced us to a world of very unique assassins. In it, wanna-be mobster and magician Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven) decides he can run his own mob, which doesn’t sit well with his former mob ties. They put a million dollar contract on “Aces”, who squeals to the FBI to get their protection.

Every hit man or woman willing to take the contract shows up at the casino in Lake Tahoe where the FBI has “Aces” for safekeeping, which causes immediate carnage.

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t like the original, even with the amazing cast. Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta, Wayne Newton, Piven, Ben Affleck, Peter Berg, Andy Garcia, Alicia Keys, Chris Pine… the list goes on. But I found the story to be a total mess even with all the unique characters.

Now in 2010, we have Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassin’s Ball. This time, I thought there was a framework and a story I could wrap my head around.

Walter Weed (Tom Berenger) is a mid-level FBI analyst nearing retirement who suddenly has a three million dollar contract on his life. When the FBI gets wind of the contract, they put him under protective custody while they try to figure out why this guy is the target.

There were a few familiar actors, such as Tommy Flanagan as hit man Lazlo Soot, Ernie Hudson as FBI agent Anthony Vejar, and Vinnie Jones as assassin Finbar McTeague. But I was largely unfamiliar with the cast. That didn’t stop me from enjoying this intriguing movie.

Where the first film failed to capture my interest with its frenetic action, Smokin’ Aces 2 managed to present a unique set of characters while keeping the plot and story relatively linear with a satsifying ending.

The bizarre array of assassins, each with his or her own unique signature traits. Lazlo Soot with his penchant for taking molds of his victims’ faces so he can later use them as masks. Finbar McTeague with his love of power tools and torture techniques. The beautiful and deadly Ariella Martinez (Martha Higareda) with her knowledge of poisons. And the family of crazies who strap bombs onto midget clowns fired from a cannon… Did I mention they were crazy?

When you add the great story about Weed and the detailed underground vault in Chicago where the FBI team attempts to keep him safe, there are many levels to this movie to keep you entertained. As the team escorts Weed into the vault, I couldn’t help but think of the many episodes of Cities of the Underworld where they explore hidden realms beneath the ground.

The gun battle in the jazz club was also more realistic than many others I’ve seen in other films. Real-life gun battles are often brutish, short, and bloody events. And when you have as many guns being fired as were in the club, things get messy quickly.

The DVD includes many interesting extras in addition to the rated and unrated versions of the film.

Most of the available deleted scenes found their way into the unrated version but the gag reel was less than exciting. A few laughs, but not much more.

However, the rest of the features presented some interesting points of view about the film:

  • “Behind the Scenes with Joe Carnahan” allows executive producer Joe Carnahan, producer Mike Elliott, writers Olatunde Osunsanmi and Olumide Odebunmi, and director P.J. Pesce to talk about the world of Smokin’ Aces and some of their thoughts about the film.
  • “Confessions of an Assassin” lets director Pesce and much of the cast explore how the movie was made – blood, guts, bullets, and all.
  • “Ready, Aim, Fire: The Weapons of Smokin’ Aces 2” introduces you to the armorer who provided the 20+ guns and other weapons in the film.
  • “Cue the Clown” – easily my favorite feature on the DVD – walks you through the process of launching exploding clowns through the front door and windows of the jazz club – one of the most expensive stunts in the movie.
  • “The Bunker Mentality: Designing the Set” lets production designer Chris August, along with Pesce and Carnahan, talk about the open design they used to give them freedom to shoot nearly everywhere and the Art Deco look and feel used throughout.

Also included was feature commentary from Pesce and Carnahan.

Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassin’s Ball was a solid spy thriller with some serious carnage. Definitely a much better film than the original! Be sure to check it out when it’s released from Universal Studios on DVD January 19th, 2010.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this movie and others from Amazon!

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DVD Review: Stiletto

Hey all…

Have you ever watched a movie and wondered “why did I just sit through this?”

Thanks to Stiletto, I have a greater appreciation for good or even “B” movies. Stiletto takes a great ensemble cast, a convoluted script with Shakespearean tragedy elements, mob movie plots, and enough violence, blood, and swearing to overwhelm the best intentioned actor, and churns them in a blender for 99 minutes.

Over the course of three days I watched bits and pieces of this film until I’d seen it all, hoping that it got better. Unfortunately, it really didn’t get better.

[rating:0.5/4]

I will say this though… The main character, Raina, played by Stana Katic, was the most consistent figure in the entire movie. Katic somehow managed to not only create a Russian woman who kills nearly everyone else in the film, but she’s doing it for a reason – vengeance is a great motivator. She has recently been in a number of movies including Quantum of Solace and The Librarian: The curse of the Judas Chalice, as well as co-starring in the upcoming series Castle with Nathan Fillion on ABC (starts March 9, 2009). And if she can be the sole beacon of light in this otherwise horrible movie, I’ll be watching Castle in a couple of weeks.

Beyond that however, the cast reads like a veritable “Who’s Who” of action and crime movies.

Tom Berenger plays crime boss Virgil Vadalos, a man at the end of his career and fighting his lieutenants for control. Berenger has looked better in other movies, including Sniper, Gettysburg, and Training Day, but it may simply have been the role. In the first 3 minutes of the film, his character is gutted — and yet somehow miraculously survives. Blood loss could explain his pallor.

Michael Biehn played Lee, Vadalos’ old right-hand man who has spent some time in Europe to take the heat for some previous crime. Biehn has been in more movies than I can count, including The Terminator, Aliens, and The Abyss. Somehow his character in this film managed to work a swear word into every other sentence.

William Forsythe plays Alex, Vadalos’ new right-hand man and the cause of all his heartache. Alex has ambition and lacks patience, which starts all the dominoes falling. Forsythe is another actor who has been in a ton of different movies, but I remember him most as “Digger” from the short-lived series John Doe on Fox TV in 2002/2003 (the titular character was played by the up and coming Dominic Purcell, who’s had a great run on Fox in Prison Break for the last few years).

Then there’s Kelly Hu as Detective Hannover, who gets a very unprofessional hole blown in her head near the end… D.B. Sweeney as Danny, who doesn’t survive 5 minutes in the film… Amanda Brooks as Penny, the psycho cockney girl with Lee who has some serious issues… Tom Sizemore as Large Bills…

Suffice it to say that Stiletto has what should have amounted to a great cast.

At its heart, Stiletto is a revenge movie. Raina’s sister comes to America to be protected by Vadalos and is nearly killed and raped by a gang of Skinheads, then thrown in the garbage. Raina is lied to by Alex, who tells her that Vadalos knew and hid the truth from her, when it was Alex who was lying the whole time and involved from the beginning. Throw in a few more gangsters, some dirty cops, and $2 million in missing money, and you have the convoluted mess that is Stiletto.

Was there anything redeeming about the film? For me, the only redeeming feature was Katic’s character. She is the glue that barely holds the whole film together. Without her, I can’t say I would have made it all the way through the movie.

In addition to the movie itself, there are no extras except for a number of previews for other movies from First Look Studios, including Way of War, Retrograde, Contract Killers, and Smoke Jumper.

Avoid this film unless you’re really, really bored. I’m giving this movie 1/2 a star. And that’s just for Katic.

–Fitz

p.s. If you really MUST pick it up, check it out at Amazon:

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