To ease the transition between “Ocean’s 12” and the upcoming “Ocean’s 13,” Joe Carnahan (“Narc”) took it upon himself to direct “Ocean’s 12.5” under the pseudonym “Smokin’ Aces.” As Carnahan isn’t the director responsible for the “Ocean’s” trilogy (that would be Steven Soderbergh), he completely misses the mark on how to make an entertainingly hip criminal-action flick.

Angela Cesere
At least one scene in the movie was smoking. (Courtesy of Universal)

“Aces” is quite clearly an “Ocean’s” offshoot with only the most minimal casting adjustments. Instead of an angry Bernie Mac black man, Carnahan uses two angry Bernie Mac-esque black women; instead of Andy Garcia as a ruthless casino owner, there’s Garcia as a manipulative FBI agent. Except for the unique absence of “Ocean’s” central character (George Clooney’s Danny Ocean), Carnahan’s unoriginality threads throughout “Aces” with predictable and formulaic plot twists frosted with excessive expletives and gore.

After agreeing to be an informant on mafia activity, Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven, “Entourage”) becomes the object of a $1 million bounty, reason enough for 11 hit men to race to Lake Tahoe in hopes of collecting before the eccentric entertainer enters FBI custody. Whether there’s any Zionist significance behind the naming of Israel is debatable (and mostly dubious).

While the thrilling police-drama “Narc” demonstrated Carnahan’s potential with a provocative plot and a unique, raw style, “Aces” is a clear display of how Carnahan’s abilities have somehow devolved over the past five years. He now chooses gratuitous brutality to jolt the audience into quiet submission. This may actually work to Carnahan’s benefit: The viewer becomes so shocked by all the bullets and blood that they can’t even think about the film’s plot twists.

Stylistically speaking, “Smokin’ Aces” appeals perfectly to Ritalin-popping children through the use of MTV-generation cuts shorter than anything even Michael Bay could have concocted. And not only is there inconsistency in sequence and shots, but “Aces” constantly shifts between a bevy of personalities. Each hit man has a unique persona ranging from neo-Nazi to Spanish torturer

Piven’s practice as the resident douche-bag on “Entourage” prepared him well for being an absolutely abhorrent asshole. Ryan Reynolds (“Just Friends”) unexpectedly, though not in a completely unbelievable fashion, demonstrates some of the movie’s only emotion, while Ben Affleck’s (“Hollywoodland”) role as a bounty hunter is almost so brief it should be considered a cameo – though his chopper ‘stache is certainly noteworthy. Ray Liotta’s (“Identity”) and Andy Garcia’s (“Ocean’s 12”) respective roles are forgettable footnotes, much like the cinematic debuts of Common and Alicia Keys. Though Jason Bateman (“Arrested Development”) has so few lines you could count them on both hands, he provides the movie’s only laughs as a self-deprecating middle-man of crime.

The film shows no strong devotion to any of its characters; in turn, the audience feels no strong dedication to any of the characters. Again, this may work to Carnahan’s benefit, as almost none of the characters survive. After all the bullets have fallen and the body count has risen, “Smokin’ Aces” weakly attempts to pitch an ultimate plot twist that comes as no surprise.

While trying to piece together a pulp fiction cinematic style with a splice of a shocking Guy Ritchie finale, the film comes up short, stimulating nothing but the adrenaline gland.

They always shoot – and SOMETIMES score:

Collateral (2004): Tom Cruise finally plays to his true type as the cold-hearted hit man who leads nice-guy taxi driver Jamie Foxx on an all-night tour-de-murder.

The Whole Nine Yards (2000): Bruce Willis and Matthew Perry buddy up in a behind-the-scene farce that makes as much fun of dentists as mercenaries.

Grosse Point Blank (1997): John Cusack and Minnie Driver inject a little romance into the business of murder. Despite some writing and acting flaws, it’s got a Michigan locale, high school reunion anxiety and a satisfying mini-course in using a ball-point pen as a weapon.

The Professional (1994): Luc Besson’s provocative tale of a complex hit man taking care of his abandoned 12-year-old neighbor introduced mainstream American to French badass Jean Reno, the terrifying inner psychopath of Gary Oldman and a then-unknown child actress by the name of Natalie Portman.

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Smokin’ Aces
At the Showcase and Quality 16

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