There’s a sale on at HMV. It seems there’s always a sale on at HMV, in fact, but this past Saturday I ambled along and picked up five new movies to run through the Review-o-tron (patent pending). Here’s the first.
More fun than I expected.
The FBI discovers that one of their own – a low-level intelligence analyst named Walter Weed – has had a hit put out on him. The bounty is $3 million and an international Who’s Who of the assassins’ fraternity has been notified. Walter is shipped off to a top-secret bunker under a Bureau-owned jazz club in a Chicago back street, but of course it doesn’t stay top-secret for long and soon Walter’s guardians are in a race against time to keep him alive until the contract expires. Gunplay and exploding clowns ensue.
I love Smokin’ Aces. When I want to watch some balls-out fun, it is one of my go-to movies. In fact, I think all of Joe Carnahan’s films are fantastic for what they are. As a filmmaker, he’s a throwback to the good old days of the 60’s and 70’s. In years to come I reckon he’ll be remembered as this era’s Sam Peckinpah: a profane whirlwind of violent exuberance. I’m sorry; I just had a bit of a moment imagining a Carnahan western. So imagine my hesitation when I discovered a DTV sequel, starring Vinnie Jones. I immediately pictured a no-budget knock-off made by a studio that had picked up the rights to the name, with no connection to the original. American Pie with guns, so to speak. I was slightly reassured when I saw Carnahan’s “story by” and exec producer credit on the box but I still wasn’t in a mad hurry to see this for fear that it would tarnish my feelings for the first movie. And, while the scope or star power can’t quite measure up, director PJ Pesce does bring the fun. Another way this flick dodges the ‘cheap knock-off sequel’ trap is by actually being a cheap knock-off prequel. The events here take place prior to that one night in Tahoe, but it’s not made clear exactly how much prior.
Cast-wise, there are three returning players: Tommy Flanagan, Maury Sterling and Christopher Michael Holley. Flanagan and Sterling are reprising their characters from Smokin’ Aces – master of disguise Lazlo Soot and psychopathic Lester Tremor respectively – while Holley is doing something a little different. He shows up here as an undercover FBI agent posing as the owner of the club, and in a brief exchange with Clayne Crawford’s heroic g-man Baker mentions that he’s been working on a new alias named Beanie for a piece of work in Vegas. Beanie, of course, was part of Buddy Israel’s entourage when the killers came calling. The rest of the cannon fodder comprises, as the DVD blurb puts it, “a mixture of grizzled veterans and newcomers”; the veterans being Tom Berenger as Walter, Tarantino favourite Michael Parks as Fritz, the father of the Tremor clan, and England’s own Mr V Jones as Finbar “The Surgeon” McTeague, a killer renowned for the medical-style torture of his victims.
The newcomers include the two token ladies Martha Higareda and Autumn Reeser. Neither one of them is strictly a newcomer though; Higareda has been a star in Mexican films and TV for years, and Reeser has done alright for herself particularly in TV in the States, but with the odd movie role too. I’ll say this for nothing though: she’s really grown up since her time on The O.C. Higareda is Ariella Martinez, a fan of the old poisoned kiss trick, while Reeser is Kaitlyn “AK47” Tremor – the first female Tremor seen in this world. Everyone acquits themselves to the material with gusto, although some of the Feds are among the least convincing lawmen ever to appear on film.
I mentioned earlier that the scale of this prequel can’t match the original flick. That’s a budgetary thing which I can’t really make a legitimate complaint about. The fact is that despite the obvious financial limitations, there is only really one sequence where the film looks cheap, and that’s during the final assault on the bunker when the Tremors are firing RPGs into an open stairwell to try and kill the Feds there protecting the door. Just in this one short scene, the picture takes on the distinctive ‘shot on digital’ feel. It looks like it was done on some dude’s camcorder frankly. The entire rest of the flick has been colour-timed and processed and looks really good, all things considered, but I found this part visually jarring. It did take me out of the film for a couple of minutes, which is a real shame since it is meant to be the centrepiece of the big action climax. Also, there is some key dialogue towards the end that is completely drowned out by gunfire. Maybe the sound mix could have used a tweak here and there.
Shit, I nearly forgot about the exploding clowns. Well, exploding midget clowns if I’m being pedantic about it. You know what? Just watch it. It’ll be more fun to find out for yourself.