Monday, February 1, 2010

Smokin Aces 2

Just watched it on DVD, and I have to say I quite enjoyed it. I know it hasn't been too well received, but I think it's getting an unfair shake..

It greatly helps if you don't hold it up for side-by-side comparison to the first. Doing that will leave you sorely disappointed. Rather, think of it as another, unrelated assassin story set in the same universe. Kind of like Kevin Smith has characters that travel between films (ie Julie Dwyer) in his Askew-niverse. Or like Tarantino has characters that similarly cross boundaries (Alabama, the Vega brothers). I'm not comparing the quality of the Carnahan-verse, as it were, to those of Smith or Tarantino. Just the concept of unique, self-contained worlds. Viewing SA2 in this light will allow you to enjoy it for what it is: a world of larger-than-life characters, card tricks, and maddeningly complex double-crosses. Not only are 3 characters from the original (yet chronologically newer) film here, there's also the near-unavoidable name drop of Buddy Israel.

This story is from the same writer, Joel Carnahan, as made clear by a couple of Easter eggs related to his first outing and the aforementioned character continuity. As a product of his fictional reality this movie is a good stand alone caper that requires no previous knowledge of the first. Though in all truthfulness I can't imagine anyone watching this movie if they have not seen the first one.

It's clearly meant to mimic the tone, and to some degree the content, of the original; we've been here before so we know what’s coming. As soon as the target of this new cabal of assassins is revealed, you'll be thinking "Okay, what's the real target here?" as you look for the inevitable plot twist that throws the story completely off the rails. That doesn't mean you won't enjoy the ride.

But before I delve into the story, a moment to appreciate the style. SA2 had pretty fucking outstanding cinematography, much like its predecessor. Here again are all the crazy camera angles, color washes, split-screens, jump-cuts through the timeline, even a nod to Natural Born Killers' acid-inspired backdrops (although that inclusion did seem almost glaringly out of place, as it never again resurfaced after grabbing your attention by the throat and demanding you notice); stylistically it was pretty close to amazing.

As for the story, it was a fun and action packed ride. Nothing too terribly groundbreaking, but if you liked the first one there's no reason you shouldn't like this one too. A few specifics (read: spoilers)-

The Tremor family is back in all their dysfunctional glory. Only one of the brothers we know from the first film is here, with a few crazy new additions. I would almost complain that this version of the Tremor family is too over the top, too comical, too batshit crazy for its own sake. Almost. Sure they were better when they were just 3 psychotic brothers that we knew almost nothing about, but this kind of glimpse into their so-called family is fun. And as the Tremor sister, Autumn Reeser is effing hot.

One of the recurring characters from part one is given a completely unexpected backstory, making for an interesting transition. And probably done solely for the knowing wink it delivers to the audience.

The addition of a finite timeline and enclosed location really raises the stakes on this mission. Cat and mouse could hardly be more tense.

As arguably the best-known cast member, Vinnie Jones is surprisingly underused. Although he is clearly in his element here.

And maybe it's the Blu-Ray, but some of the explosions looked laughably bad.

All in all a solid, entertaining 90 minutes. As the story unfolds, I felt like they almost clumsily hand you the puzzle pieces (you can unmistakably hear the lines that will be repeated as voiceovers during the final reveal), daring us to not figure out the curveball ending. And they got me. I fell for the red herrings all the way, so much so that by the time they delivered the actual ending, I was a little pissed that they tricked me so blatantly. And just as I was derisively mocking the ending as a cheap, almost carbon-copy ripoff of the final shot from Usual Suspects, they turned the tables yet again and delivered an ending so satisfying that I still can't believe it happened. Ku-fucking-dos.

On a pop culture note, if ever a movie is adapted from the Twisted Metal video game franchise, these are the guys to do it. SA2 already had enough elements to qualify as a loose adaptation- crazy assassins, crazier vehicles, a carnival, and exploding clowns.

As for the extras, a couple worthwhile tidbits. The deleted scenes section is unimpressive, save for the clip that shows they almost used the shitty, completely non-satisfying ending. Glad they didn't. The segment on weapons is interesting. But the one that I really recommend is the Behind the Scenes. I have a special affinity for how movies are made. And watching this really enhanced the entire movie experience. You can really see that they weren't trying to make a clone of the first movie. Nor were they trying to re-envision it. They were just taking the world they had created- this world of insane assassins, high octane, balls to the wall, full throttle adventure- and tell another story that would keep you entertained. And in that, I would say they succeeded.

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