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PCR # 357  (Vol. 8, No. 4)  This edition is for the week of January 23-29, 2007.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review
"Smokin' Aces"

Movie review by:
Michael A. Smith
Four stars

Movies are rated 0 to 4 stars

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"Smokin' Aces"  by Mike Smith
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The Tampa Film Review: A Retrospective  by Paul Guzzo
Ordinary World....How About that Jackie Earle Haley?!?  by Andy Lalino
Sniff Sniff....Love That JEH!...They Can't All Be Winners....Da Bears....Anerican Idol....Whatever Happened To...? Chapter 4: John Cazale  by Mike Smith
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Starring: Jeremy Piven, Andy Garcia, Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta
Directed by: Joe Carnahan
Rated: R
Running Time: 1 hour 51 mins

What a difference a year makes! I didn't give my first four star review to a film from last year until mid-April, when I sang the praises of "United 93." (note to the Academy: you got it half right by nominating director Paul Greengrass. And don't even get me started on "Dreamgirls."). This year we are half way through January and the stars have lined up again for the crime thriller "Smokin' Aces."

The FBI has closed in on the last major crime "family" in Nevada. They've found a witness that will put everyone away. That witness is Buddy "Aces" Israel, a popular entertainer (think Wayne Newton, who makes a brief appearance, with card tricks) that has gotten in with the wrong people. Knowing that Aces is about to make a deal with the Feds, one of the bosses (the hardly seen face but recognizable voice of Alex Rocco) has made an offer to a mysterious man known only as "the Swede" (Vladimir Kulich) to bring him Buddy's heart. The payoff: a cool million dollars. Of course, once word of the contract hits the streets, it's not long before others decide to take a shot (ha) at Buddy themselves. And so begins a film that rivals "The Departed" for twists and turns. But it's one hell of a ride!

Joe Carnahan, who also wrote and directed the sadly under seen film "Narc" has once again crafted a story that is character driven. And what characters they are. No less then thirteen people are in the hunt for Benny. Some on their own, others in groups. There are the two hot hit-women (Alicia Keys and Sharice Watters), who plan to use sex appeal to lure Buddy out of his penthouse fortress. A couple of ex-cops (Affleck and Peter Berg) and their misfit friend (Martin Henderson) join the hunt, as do a trio of brothers (Chris Pine, Kevin Durand, Maury Sterling) who look like they just walked off the set of "The Road Warrior." Add a couple of bad guys working solo as well as two driven FBI agents (Reynolds and Liotta) and the action comes fast and furious. Bullets fly in gun battles that would make John Woo and Tony Scott envious. But it's not all excitement that keeps the film moving. All of the performances are strong, with special mention going to Piven and Reynolds, both of whom are more well known for being wise-guy frat boys then dramatic actors. Singer Alicia Keys does a fine job in her feature film debut as do the many minor characters that drive the story, including Jason Bateman and Curtis Armstrong. High marks as well to Andy Garcia who shows up as the Deputy Director of the FBI, apparently having left the Secret Service after "The Untouchables." The photography by Mauro Fiore ("Tears of the Sun," "Training Day") is sharp and bright and the score by Clint Mansell, whose music for "Requiem for a Dream" is one of my all time favorites, drives the action home.

A thriller in every sense of the word, "Smokin' Aces" is what they call in poker a Royal Flush!

On a scale of zero to four stars I give "Smokin' Aces"  Four stars

This week's movie review of "Smokin' Aces" is ©2007 by Michael A. Smith.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2007, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2007 by Nolan B. Canova.