Directed by Joe Carnahan (Narc & Ticker) this dark-comedy action romp manages to breath some life back into the organized crime genre, although it’s a long way from the Tarantino films it imitates. Starring Jeremy Piven (Cars & TV’s Entourage), Ryan Reynolds (Just Friends & Blade: Trinity) and, surprise surprise, Andy Garcia (Hoodlum & Twisted) and Ray Liotta (Narc & Goodfellas), it won’t win any awards, but there are worse ways to spend an evening.
A mafia boss is dying, but he wants one last thing before he goes. Overheard by the obligatory FBI eavesdroppers he demands the heart of former associate turned enemy Buddy ‘Aces’ Israel (Piven). As the FBI attempt to negotiate for Aces co-operation, top hitmen and women converge on the Las Vegas hotel where he’s hiding for the $1 million prize. Throw in his hangers-on and bounty hunters who want him alive, and the result is pretty much what you’d expect.
Piven gives a good performance as Aces. Shallow, selfish, arrogant and willing to sell his closest friends to save his own skin, he’s exactly what you’d expect the character to be. You don’t mind the fact that everyone’s trying to kill him as, given the chance, you probably would as well. Reynolds plays FBI agent Richard Messner who after fighting his way through blood-bath after blood-bath definitely earns himself his actions and sense of betrayal later on. Garcia is Stanley Locke, a loathsome FBI agent whom you dislike from the off and Liotta is Donald Carruthers, Messner’s friend and mentor.
The rest of the cast is well-rounded and more than capable in roles which are often little more than cameos. Singer Alicia Keys gives a good debut as Georgia Sykes, a sultry hit woman of dubious sexuality. Chris Pine (Just My Luck) is Darwin Tremor, one of three brothers seemingly intent on destroying everything in sight. Joel Edgerton (Kinky Boots) is hilarious as Yuri, the monosyllabic lump of an Eastern European bodyguard. The only second rate performance is Ben Affleck’s (Gigli) as bounty hunter Jack Dupree, although his grisly death early on allows the audience a good laugh and a huge sigh of relief.
The film itself is fast-paced and, with a cast verging on Gosford Park proportions, it’s easy to get confused as to what is going on where and with whom. Admittedly you’re not actually supposed to give a monkey’s about any of the characters, which is just as well. The action jumps from location to location as everyone moves closer and closer to the hotel where it’s obvious the viewer is in for a blood-soaked finale, some of which is so risible it actually reminds you of the Oktoberfest scene from The Pink Panther Strikes Again. The comedy element is good, but some of the jokes could have done with being a little shorter; let’s just say five minutes about jizz on a coat gets is a bit much…
Unfortunately, there’s one major let down. The plot itself is ok, but the filmmakers give too many obvious clues too early, and the final denouement comes as about as much of a surprise as getting socks for Christmas. The audience is so far ahead of the film that you’ll have worked out whats actually going to happen an hour before you actually get there.
However, there are enough good performances and laughs to make up for the obvious shortcomings. If you like this sort of thing then, until the next Tarantino movies hit the screens, this is probably about as good as you’re going to get.