By Heather Leszczewicz Special to Published Jan 29, 2007 at 5:15 AM

While "Smokin' Aces" deserves an A for effort, writer/director Joe Carnahan -- who tries to mimic Quentin Tarantino's blow 'em up, shoot 'em up, blood and guts storytelling -- crams in too many plotlines for his large ensemble cast and hardly aces this one.

Former Las Vegas illusionist extraordinaire and mob hanger-on, Buddy "Aces" Israel (Jeremy Piven) is locked into a deal with  the FBI that has him spilling all the details of crime boss, Primo Sparazza (Joseph Ruskin), essentially breaking down the Vegas crime syndicate.

Sparazza definitely isn't having it and calls for a hit, but at the price of $1 million for Israel, there are other hitmen (and women) biting at the chance to take him out.

The FBI has to save Israel and to save its case. Agents Carruthers and Messner (Ray Liotta and Ryan Reynolds) rush to his aid. But with hitwomen Georgia Sykes and Sharice Watters (Alicia Keys and Taraji P. Henson), bail bondsman Jack Dupree (Ben Affleck), hitman Pasquale Acosta (Nestor Carbonell), psychotic hitmen the Three Tremors (Chris Pine, Kevin Durand and Maury Sterling) and hitman/master of disguise Lazlo Soot (Tommy Flanagan), all in for the million, the likelihood of his coming out alive is slim.

"Smokin' Aces" suffers from the breadth of its ensemble cast. Sure, a lot of them might not make it out in the end, but each character has a perspective and taking the time to provide those to the viewer distracts from the matter at hand: Buddy Israel. Although he's the central character, "Smokin' Aces" gives everyone a turn at center stage, and that's sometimes unnecessary.

Perhaps ironically, the most interesting part of "Smokin' Aces" comes at the beginning when each of the hitmen (and women) is profiled, and viewers get a glimpse into past hits. What ultimately dooms the film also provides some of the most captivating moments.

Singers Keys and Common (who played Israel's gunman Sir Ivy) make their movie debuts with great success, except when on screen together. Then, the corny come-ons and awkward conversations start to fly.

But the bright spots are Piven as Israel and Reynolds as Messner. Both acted way beyond past roles as comedic sidekicks to leading men. While the movie goes to pot around them, they entertain and to develop their characters.

For exampke, the audience watches as Piven's character devolves from shining, smiling Vegas star telling Wayne Newton to retire to a man at his wit's end sniffing massive amounts of coke in a bathroom and staring himself down in a mirror.

He also wields a deck of cards both as a distraction and a weapon ala Gambit from "X-Men," minus the exploding part.

However, Piven can't hold up "Smokin' Aces" on his own. Piven, Reynolds and a handful of worthwhile scenes can't overcome the film's lacking of focus.

Heather Leszczewicz Special to

Originally from Des Plaines, Ill., Heather moved to Milwaukee to earn a B.A. in journalism from Marquette University. With a tongue-twisting last name like Leszczewicz, it's best to go into a career where people don't need to say your name often.

However, she's still sticking to some of her Illinoisan ways (she won't reform when it comes to things like pop, water fountain or ATM), though she's grown to enjoy her time in the Brew City.

Although her journalism career is still budding, Heather has had the chance for some once-in-a-lifetime interviews with celebrities like actor Vince Vaughn and actress Charlize Theron, director Cameron Crowe and singers Ben Kweller and Isaac Hanson of '90s brother boy band Hanson. 

Heather's a self-proclaimed workaholic but loves her entertainment. She's a real television and movie fanatic, book nerd, music junkie, coffee addict and pop culture aficionado.