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Smokin’ Aces

So obviously derivative of Guy Ritchie’s bloody, hyperkinetic style of ensemble crime flick, this could have been called "Lock, Stock and Two Smokin’ Aces." Writer-director Joe Carnahan (whose previous films include the vastly superior, intelligent "Narc") also channels Quentin Tarantino and Tony Scott with his hip dialogue and high body count.

Which is a shame, because Carnahan clearly has the capability of establishing a voice of his own. But amid all the freakish and sadistic hit men (and women) converging on Lake Tahoe for the $1-million prize to assassinate magician Buddy (Aces) Israel, it’s impossible to care about or root for a single one of them.

They’re all such self-consciously two-dimensional villains _ and that especially includes Israel himself, played by Jeremy Piven with an obnoxious mix of bravado and bleary-eyed paranoia. Carnahan veers wildly between dark comedy and over-the-top violence but never quite gets the tone right. (He does get a couple of good scenes out of Alicia Keys and Jason Bateman, though.) Ray Liotta, Ryan Reynolds, Ben Affleck, Taraji P. Henson and Andy Garcia are among the overly large cast. R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use. One and a half stars out of four.

_ Christy Lemire, AP