This is a flashy, nasty, hyper-violent story about a lot of people who are very, very interested in a snitch, magician and five time entertainer-of-the-year Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven).
He’s about to turn state’s evidence against his long-time cronies in the mob. The FBI is particularly interested in mob boss Primo Sparazza (Joseph Ruskin), and Buddy is the only evidence they have.
So, that means a lot of people are very, very interested in Buddy, now holed up in a penthouse suite in Lake Tahoe after jumping bail, waiting to hear from his lawyer about an immunity deal. Interested parties include the FBI, the bail bondsman, who hires three former cops to get Buddy back, Buddy’s own entourage, who suspect he may be giving them up to protect himself, those mobsters mentioned earlier, and several different paid assassins, some in teams and some alone, who are competing for the very generous price the bad guys are offering.
The assorted hitmen (and women) include the trigger-happy punkish Tremor brothers, a master of disguise, a mysterious guy known only as “the Swede,” an emotionless assassin who once chewed off his own fingertips so he could not be identified by fingerprints, and a ambitious black lesbian couple very happy about the chance to show what they can do with their first big-time opportunity.
The interactions between each and all of these characters create the opportunity for some stylish set-pieces, dynamically shot (in both senses of the word) and energetically acted by big stars having fun in small roles. Ben Affleck (cop turned bounty hunter), Chris Pine (most coherent of the growling Tremors, especially when he’s speaking lines of forgiveness from someone he just killed), Jason Bateman (as a lawyer so scuzzy you’ll want to take a bath in antibiotics after watching him), rap star Common (Buddy’s straight-talking sidekick), Mathew Fox (unrecognizable as head of hotel security), and especially multi-Grammy-award winner Alicia Keyes and Hustle and Flow star Taraji P. Henson (the all-woman team) all have fun with their brief showy moments, shooting off colorful dialogue and very big guns.
But the twists of plot and piles of bodies go way over the top. People have just got to stop trying to be Tarantino. I know he makes it look easy, but being audacious and understated at the same time in the middle of balletic bloodbaths is not enough.
Parents should know that this is an exceptionally violent film, with extreme, intense, and especially graphic violence and injuries and many, many injuries and deaths. Characters use extremely strong language, drink, smoke, and use drugs. Most of the characters are criminals, including mobsters and hired killers. There are extremely explicit sexual references and non-explicit situations with some nudity and references to prostitutes, orgies, and homosexuality. The characters are a veritable Benneton ad of diversity, so to the extent that it is a positive sign that the killers include women, minorities, and gay characters, it is worth mentioning.
Families who see this film should talk about Messner’s final decision. Was he right? What were some of his alternatives? Who is this movie designed for? How can you tell?