Thursday, January 14, 2010



The original SMOKIN’ ACES is one of those crass movies that sneaks up on you and forces you to like it. The characters are all well-developed, and Joe Carnahan’s frenetic direction really makes that film work. But when it ends, there is no room for a sequel. Most of the characters have been killed or are considering a new line of work. So the only direction in which to build another story out of the SMOKIN’ ACES foundation would be to go prequel. But that doesn’t work either.

SMOKIN’ ACES 2: ASSASSIN’S BALL (SA2AB) is a horribly clunky, straight-to-DVD prequel that fails in its attempt to coast off of the first film. Directed by PJ Pesce, the asshat who directed LOST BOYS 2: THE TRIBE and FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 3: THE HANGMAN’S DAUGHTER, one should expect SA2AB to be nothing but a crippled film at best.

The plot is a boiler-plate, illegitimate mockery of the original SMOKIN’ ACES (SA1) right down to its last scene. FBI agents have been called to protect someone, and a bunch of psychotic assassins are closing in on that target. Everyone dies, and those that don’t are scarred either physically or mentally. Even such a cookie-cutter plot should work for a prequel/sequel, but SA2AB trips over itself constantly.

The story is about a wheelchair-bound, middle-management FBI agent named Walter Weed (Tom Beringer far from his PLATOON days). Apparently a three million dollar contract has been taken out on his life. For a solid half-hour, he is hustled away deep into the bowels of a nightclub and then into its posh panic room. Snipers are put in place, and an agent occupies a hotel room across the street with a great view of this blatantly obvious Universal Studios backlot setting. There is so much bluster from Agent Baker (Clayne Crawford) and Malcolm Little (Christopher Michael Holley) about how impenetrable the place is that it is completely predictable that someone is going to walk in heavily armed and crack through the layers of cement and metal before the film ends.

Unfortunately, there is so little character investment in Walter Weed, Agent Baker, or the other half-dozen FBI yahoos that no one should care. These other FBI agents are identified by over-dramatic screen freezes with their names emblazoned in print, but it is a useless stylistic gesture, and these characters really don’t matter.

SA2AB leans drunkenly on the movie it supposedly came before. Buddy Israel (Jeremy Piven) from the first film is referenced just before McTeague (Vinnie Jones) performs some seriously blunt acupuncture on his victim’s head. McTeague is a waste of a character and a waste of an actor who could actually convey menace back when he was Bullet Tooth Tony in SNATCH. In SA2AB he is just a bloated, scarfaced hitman. He has nothing to do really, and it is his fault for signing on to this disaster.

There is another new assassin in SA2AB who comes in sniffing around for the chance to make a quick three million. It is unfortunate that Ariella Martinez (Martha Higareda), the queen of literally poisonous kisses, only kisses two people to death before she takes a sloppy bullet to the back. There was a sliver of potential with her character, but for a film running as short on time and brainpower as this one, it is a true feat that she made it to the third act.

The most heinous reference in SA2AB to SA1 is the introduction of the Tremor family sans the non compos mentis brothers who absolutely ruled SA1. Kaitlin ‘AK-47’ Tremor (Autumn Reeser) is introduced as the nymphomaniac sister who shrieks like Amanda Plummer did in PULP FICTION. There is a running incest joke as her brother Lester (Maury Sterling) paws and gropes at his sister, but relief is on the way because both of these weirdos get their aces smoked.

It takes zero brain effort to realize that if these Tremor folk aren’t around in SA1 that they will all most definitely get killed in SA2AB. And they are so irritating that it doesn’t happen soon enough. The nihilistic sophistication of the Tremor brothers in the original SMOKIN’ ACES has been swapped for loose cannons that are just completely crackers. This new (old) batch of Tremors have nothing going for them but incest and a dislike for one another. The original Tremor brothers were unified in their ignorance; they actually seemed to be brothers, not a bunch of second-rate actors in a straight-to-DVD debacle.

The only assassin that makes an appearance in both films is Lazlo Soot (Tommy Flanagan). Lazlo is a master of disguise but really doesn’t do much for the outcome of the film. He gets a couple of sneaky bullets off but is ultimately underused as a character. He is the only true link to SA1, and he is basically a throw-away character.

It will take a completely unseasoned movie watcher only seconds to guess who is pulling the assassins’ strings, but it takes the film a solid 70 minutes or so to confirm the guess. SA2AB runs at a lean 88 minutes, but seriously, I would rather clean the bathroom than watch this trash. There is a moment when exploding midget clowns are being employed by the Tremor family as a way to penetrate the fortress, but that is the only non-pedestrian step this film takes. Blood sprays heavily when throats are slashed, and Baby Boy Tremor (C. Ernst Harth) manages to execute a headshot that is worth a rewind. Other than that, this film is a loosely stitched together, ugly bastard child of a film that was in no need of a prequel or sequel for that matter.

Apparently, Joe Carnahan (the writer and director of the original) is subtly attached to this film. He presents it and apparently has something to do with the story. There was so much promise in Carnahan when he caught everyone’s attention with NARC. It is unfortunate that he is associated with this SA2AB wreck just before his career seriously implodes with his upcoming, stupid-looking A-TEAM. Pity, because when Carnahan is up and running, he is a force to be reckoned with.

SMOKIN’ ACES 2: ASSASSIN’S BALL is a complete atrocity of a film. It follows its cro-magnon skeleton plotline all the way through to its cynical end. It had the potential to really be something better than the disjointed abomination it became. Unfortunately, a blank cheque in regards to body-count, profanity, and splatter doesn’t make a decent film. This movie is a waste of talent, money, and your time.

-Mediasaurus Rex

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