Someone should check Joe Carnahan for performance enhancement drugs. S

mokin' Aces

, the wild ride of a movie he scripted and directed, is so pumped up, manic and mayhem-packed that it practically shoots sweat off the screen.

They should also check Carnahan's Netflix account: If he hasn't been renting Quentin Tarantino right and left, then he's been channeling the Reservoir Dogs/Pulp Fiction auteur some other way.

For a while, until the whole thing gets too explosively exhausting for its own good, this whirring, bloody, smash-and-grab romp is just that - a romp.

There isn't much in the way of plot or characters; it's more like Newtonian physics, with every action triggering an equal and opposite, and outrageous, reaction. Various packs of feds, freelancers, bail bondsmen, power saw-armed neo-Nazi nutballs, hit men and hit ladies descend on a Lake Tahoe hotel, where Buddy "Aces" Israel (Jeremy Piven), a Vegas showman-turned-stoolie, is holed up in a penthouse suite.

Some want to nab Buddy and keep him safe so he can testify, and others just want to wipe him off the face of the earth. It's kind of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, except that the busy parade of stars in this case - Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Andy Garcia, Alicia Keys, Ray Liotta, Ryan Reynolds, Matthew Fox and plenty more - aren't just racing for the bounty, they're also killing each other to get there first.

Piven, for his part, paces his heavily guarded aerie, nervously shuffling a deck of cards, tooting coke and more coke until the paranoia oozes from his pores. Surrounded, at first, by a harem of hookers, and by a couple of henchmen, he finds his fortress in the sky is laid siege by some of the aforementioned horde, and then others. The elevator banks, the stairwells, the windows, the roof - every entrance and exit becomes a conduit for armed-to-the-teeth law enforcers, and law-breakers, to do their business.

Talk about sitting ducks. Or a sitting magician-comedian with a foul mouth, an intimate knowledge of mob dealings, and a price on his head.

Carnahan, whose 1998 low-budget indie, Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane, put him on the Hollywood map (he went on to make Narc), moves the pieces around with aplomb - and bombs in the air. A couple of every-which-way shootouts are impressively staged. Singer Keys, making her feature debut as an assassin-for-hire in neo-Foxy Brown couture, is a standout in the big, busy cast. Reynolds, as a true-blue FBI guy, is another.

But Smokin' Aces is all pumped up with no place to go, and the crashing letdown, as the rush fades and the ammo shells lie spent across the screen, is heavy indeed.

Smokin' Aces **1/2 (out of four stars)

Produced by Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, written and directed by Joe Carnahan, photography by Mauro Fiore, music by Clint Mansell, distributed by Universal Pictures.

Running time: 1 hour, 49 mins.

Buddy "Aces" Israel.......................Jeremy Piven

Georgia Sykes. . . Alicia Keys

Stanley Locke. . . Andy Garcia

Richard Messner. . . Ryan Reynolds

Parent's guide: R (violence, drugs, profanity, nudity, adult themes)

Playing at: area theaters


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