Smokin' Aces 2: Assassins' Ball Blu-ray Review
PictureSmokin' Aces 2 comes to Blu-ray with a 1080p High Definition video presentation in the movie's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen. The film looks pretty solid, having the familiar slightly-Documentary-styled edge that is common with HD-shot low-budget affairs. The picture is given that clear, clean look of a TV news report, but does not stand up quite as well as the movie draws on, with poor lighting conditions - where softness, some blurring, and some crush become apparent - peppering the final act. The colour scheme is quite broad and well represented here, although skin tones look a little pasty. Ever since Rachel Getting Married I have noticed that many (relatively) low-budget films that get a Blu-ray release off the back of a Digital source end up looking marginally flawed as a direct result of this filming choice. Whilst this would work for a documentary (Rachel Getting Married was at least fairly documentary in nature) - and whilst some scenes look truly amazing (normally daytime shots and facial close-ups) - frenetic movement in low lighting often results in a blur to the image, and detail and contrast levels tend to drop off if the shots are not lit properly, which is normally the case with all but the bigger budget productions. Smokin' Aces 2 has its highlights, where the shots really show what HD Digital cameras and Blu-ray High Def presentation can do, but also has its fair share of flawed moments where the picture is simply let down by the material captured.
SoundThe DTS-HD Master Audio accompaniment for the movie may be far from the kind of DTS track that you would expect for a Hollywood Blockbuster released on the High Definition format, it is still a fairly punchy, engaging offering which is noisy in all the right places. Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently, largely from the fronts and centre channels, and the score does its job - a strange but effective enough mix of everything from Wagner to James Brown to Evanescence - and offers the surrounds plenty to do to keep things moving. Effects are the most noteworthy aspect of the track, with cars crashing through concrete blocks, RPGs unleashed, and endless rounds of ammunition spent, all seemingly for the express purpose of aurally lighting up your living room (especially since nobody seems to hit anybody). They give the surrounds plenty more to do, and the bigger events even pull in a little bass.
ExtrasProps to Joe Carnahan for not totally disowning this prequel, and in fact participating heavily not only in the making of this movie, but also in all the main extra features on this disc.
First up we get an Audio Commentary with the aloof Director P.J. Pesce, and Carnahan, who immediately introduces himself as being a very hands-on Producer. There's a fair amount of back-slapping here, not least on Mr Carnahan's part, with him talking about Pesce as if he were the next Tony Scott. It's fair enough that they have actually worked wonders with the budget that they were restricted to, but I can't honestly see Pesce graduating onto much glossier stuff. The two complement each other quite well, and the commentary - which is equal parts technical filmmaking stuff and amusing anecdotes - is reasonably entertaining, and certainly one which fans of the Smokin' Aces saga will want to check out.
Behind the Scenes with Joe Carnahan is a 7 minute Featurette about making a follow-up to Smokin' Aces, told from the Producer's point of view. The focus is on the making of a similarly-styled film, and the great job Pesce did to give the film some stlye, and the relationship forged between him and Carnahan.
Confessions of an Assassin is a 26 minute Making-Of Featurette which takes a fairly detailed and comprehensive look at the chaotic production, complete with requisite behind the scenes footage, cast and crew interview snippets (which offer some limited insights into the various colourful characters too) and final film footage, all intercut with almost the same frenetic style as the movie itself. Following on in the same self-congratulatory way as all the stuff before it, it is still an enjoyable accompaniment for fans of the movie(s).
The Bunker Mentality Set Design Featurette focuses for a brief 4 minutes explicitly on the places where the story (and action) ultimately converges, and the design-work put into creating it.
Cue The Clown is an Explosive Stunts Featurette which looks exclusively at the - and I'm not kidding - explosive dwarves stolen from the circus.
The Ready, Aim, Fire: The Weapons of Smokin' Aces 2 Featurette has most of the cast members popping up to briefly note the various weapons they used, mostly of the firearm variety. Obviously this one will appeal to those who like their guns, but it was also quite nice to see how enthusiastic they all seemed to be about this, one of the many fun (I suspect) aspects of the zany production. Autumn Reeser seems well into her twin Scorpion machine-pistols, whereas - conversely, and against stereotype - Vinnie Jones doesn't appear to have a clue what he was using.
The throwaway Deleted Scenes were mostly extensions to previously existing scenes - even the only significant addition was shredded and fast-edited into the film's final cut introduction. The scene with more card-tricks would have probably been a welcome addition, but then again it may have drawn too many comparisons to the first movie, and overall these were all better left out. The final deleted scene - a brief alternate ending - is much too similar to Usual Suspects, whereas I think the one they went with at least had one original note to sign off on.
The Gag Reel is a little tedious (most gag reels these days are getting fairly predictable, and there's only so many times you want to see people messing up their lines before you are no longer amused by it).
VerdictSmokin' Aces 2 is surely going to disappoint anybody going into it expecting a sequel that is even vaguely comparable to the original, wild ride that was Joe Carnahan's vision. Still, as a low-budget, Straight-to-DVD sequel, Assassins' Ball is perfectly enjoyable, frivolous fun, capturing the same spirit as the original. Made with cheap versions of the same ingredients, it still has a hefty quota of frenzied panache, and more than enough crazy behaviour, violent insanity and lingerie-wearing gun-toting psychotic sexy chicas in it to keep you engaged for its self-consciously sleek runtime. In the UK we thankfully get the extended, better cut (the equivalent of the Unrated version in the States), which for this kind of movie means more sex and violence, hitting the streets on a Region Free Blu-ray complete with a decent but flawed video presentation (mostly due to its digital footage), solid aural rendition and bevy of extras, most of which have the welcome participation of the extremely hands-on producer Joe Carnahan. Know what you're going into, and go in with reasonably low expectations, and you're unlikely to dislike this Smokin' Aces instalment. Hell, a little more money and a few more familiar faces and this could have been a halfway decent movie.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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