January 20, 2010

Smokin' Aces 2 - Assassins' Ball

Is this a great film? No, not by a long shot. However, I challenge anyone out there to find me another movie that turns clowns into exploding projectiles of destruction. Seriously. I kid you not. I have never seen a movie that had this particular tool at their disposal, but if you know of or can find another one, please let me know as I definitely want to see it.

Before arriving on home video, this film had its sub-title changed from Blowback to Assassins' Ball. It is a small thing, but I have to ask why? I don't think it has anything to do with marketability. I cannot say I really care one way or the other, but I do have to say that after seeing the film, heck after the first bit of this prequel, the Blowback tag makes a lot more sense. Besides, that is how it is referred to in the commentary track by executive producer Joe Carnahan and director P.J. Pesce.

It was three years ago that director Joe Carnahan (exec. producer here) first brought us the world of Smokin Aces. Not for a moment did I think it would spawn a sequel, although I am not surprised by it. The film was an exercise in style over substance. A movie about a hit played out by over the top characters where the interest was in the bullet ballet rather than the target. It was an enjoyable film that was helped by a bevy of stars that included Jeremy Piven, Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta, Ben Affleck, Alicia Keys, Common, and an up and coming Chris Pine.

This prequel does not have the star power behind it. The biggest name being Tom Berenger, who is Oscar nominated and has been in films for a long time but whose stock is not quite as high as it used to be. Case in point, I told a friend about this film and when I mentioned Berenger starred in it, they responded "Who?" So, the movie is going to live or die based on the franchise status and word of mouth.

So, is it any good? No, not particularly. With that said, it still has a certain style and over the top feel that makes it more fun than your typical direct to video far, but that is about as far as it goes. If you want a good story, this is not going to fill your cup, but if you are looking for a half or so of setup followed by about a half hour of action closing with a fifteen minute of recap where all is revealed, this is for you. Although, the only thing really worth watching is the thirty minutes of action.

The movie takes some of its cues from the first film, of course. This means you will see touches of Tarantino and Rodriguez sprinkled throughout. This one brings the added bonus of Bryan Singer, more specifically The Usual Suspects, at least a little of that films flavor.

As we open, we are introduced to Walter Weed (Tom Berenger), a paraplegic FBI analyst who has just been told a contract has been put out on him for a specific date and time. This draws out a host of colorful assassins who are all looking for a big pay day. This includes the likes of a torture loving Brit played by Vinnie Jones, a lovely woman who kills with a kiss played by Martha Higareda, and the return of the Tremors, highlighted by The OCs Autumn Reeser.

The first act takes its time in introducing us to the players and moving them into position. However, it never really makes me care about anyone. It is almost an exercise in how much pointlessness we can take before something really happens. Fortunately, when the bullets fly it is a rather vigorous affair that has bodies, bullets, shrapnel, and clowns flying all over the place. Then, once that has calmed down we move into the big reveal where we are told everything we know is wrong.

Director P.J. Pesce seems to be the king of sequels, already having helmed Sniper 3 (also with Berenger), From Dusk Til Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter, and the recent Lost Boys: The Tribe. He is not the greatest director, but he definitely has an interesting eye and has a lot of interesting shots. I wonder what he could do on a higher profile original project? He works with a script he penned alongside Olatunde Osunsanmi (who also write and directed The Fourth Kind)and Olumide Odebunmi (who also share story credit with Joe Carnahan).

Audio/Video. You can tell this movie does not have the budget or backing of a theatrical release. Despite this, the Blu-ray looks quite good. The colors are sharp and there is a lot of detail even in the darker sequences. The most impressive visual sequence is the shootout in the bar. The flying debris and lighting in the club combined with the flying bodies look excellent.

The audio is DTS-HD 5.1 and it sounds pretty good. Again, it distinguishes itself during the big shootout sequence, with bullets flying, things exploding, and sound playing from all angles. It is a good mix with nothing to complain about.

Extras. This disk comes with a host of extra material.

  • Commentary. This track features Exec. Producer Joe Carnahan and director P.J. Pesce. It is an interesting listen as they point out a number of interesting shots and moments, but I found their personalities to be a little abrasive. I cannot put my finger on it. I mean it is not like they are nasty or anything, it is just a feeling I got. Still, it is definitely worth listening to.
  • Deleted Scenes. Nothing special found here. Always interesting to see, but these scenes do nothing but slow the film down.
  • Gag Reel. These are often funny, it humanizes the performers and gives a truer idea of what the set is like. It has the usual flubbed lines and such.
  • Behind the Scenes with Joe Carnahan. Go on the set of both films with set footage and interviews with those involved with the sequel.
  • Confessions of an Assassin. On the set with everyone involved. Not bad. Again, behind the scenes footage is cool, taking you behind the curtain so to speak.
  • Ready, Aim, Fire: The Weapons of Smokin' Aces 2. This movie has all manner of weaponry. This gives you a look at all manner of guns.
  • Cue the Clown. This give you a closer look at the clown sequence. This was a funny sequence.
  • The Bunker Mentality: Designing the Set. This bunker is a pretty cool place. It looks like a nice place to hang out. When you see it, you cannot deny it.
  • Two Versions. Contains an R-rated cut and an unrated cut which runs two minutes longer. I watched the unrated, but not the rated, but I suspect the main difference is some blood.
  • Pocket Blu. This is something relatively new. It allows you to transfer features o your mobile device. I have not yet played with it, but it is on here somewhere!

Bottomline. The movie is nothing particularly special, but it is not without its charms. I could see myself watching it again. The action is pretty wild when it's there and some of the characters are pretty interesting. That said, this is not something I would call a must see in the least. If you like the first, it may be worth checking out.

Mildly Recommended.

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