Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassins’ Ball — technically a prequel to the original Aces film — is a lot like its predecessor in terms of plot and style. It’s a heavily stylized action film in which everyone is fighting to kill or protect a single individual. This time around, it’s an FBI veteran named Walter Weed (Tom Berenger), which means that a working title for this film was probably “Smokin’ Weed,” which would have been infinitely funnier but wouldn’t have the brand recognition, I suppose.
Assassins’ Ball is a fitting title, too, considering what eventually happens. Essentially, a bunch of assassins have been given a target, Weed, and a time frame in which to perform the kill — an arbitrary time of 3AM on April 19th, for whatever that’s worth to you. The government wants to protect their agent, obviously, so they put him down in a bunker so well protected that it would take idiocy on the part of the agents for it to be penetrated. I think you can see where this is going. The assassins have to fight through each other and the FBI agents in order to try to collect their bounty.
Apart from the FBI being the protective bodies, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is the same storyline as the first Smokin’ Aces, because it pretty much is. This is a prequel, though, meaning that any characters who appear in the original film have to live through this one. That takes away some of the fun, I think; when the action scenes come, you know that a couple of these people can’t die.
Anyway, it’s not like it really matters, as the characters that appear in Smokin’ Aces don’t play terribly major roles in this one. Or, perhaps it was just that I didn’t remember many of the people in the first film, because it was overloaded with too many characters who ultimately didn’t matter. The ones in this film are a lot like that, too, but because there aren’t nearly as many, at least you can keep track of all of them. They all have a central gimmick that pretty much defines their personality, and that’s about all that matters.
We don’t spend as much time with the characters this time around, which is to the film’s benefit and the director’s credit. Most of them will eventually be killed anyway, and it’s not like we’re supposed to root for the assassins — the film does make it clear that our protagonists are Weed and the man tasked with protecting him, Special Agent Zane Baker (Clayne Crawford) — so do we really need more than a stereotype? In this film, I think that answer is an emphatic “no.” It works to have caricatures … and not spend a great deal of time with them, which would reveal just how shallow they are.
It’s easy to see how low the budget is for this movie. The explosions in particular look incredibly cheap. It’s as if they took a circa-2000 stock effect and threw it in whenever an explosion was desired. That, and a noticeable and also really poorly executed Natural Born Killers tribute — especially because nothing is done with this after it happens and there’s barely a connection between the characters used in the tribute and Oliver Stone’s movie. Maybe it was subtly trying to tell us something about them, but it doesn’t register.
There definitely are some fun action scenes, and that’s what you’re here for, right? A large budget has been replaced by excessive amounts of gore. Seriously, this is a surprisingly bloody movie. You see a guy get shot, and you think “well, that was a bloodless shot,” and then we see the wall behind him and pretty much all of the blood in his body is splattered on the wall.
Did I enjoy Assassins’ Ball more than the first Smokin’ Aces? A part of me thinks that I did. It’s a slightly shorter, more heavily stylized version of the same movie, but with fewer meaningless characters and a more simplified, less convoluted plot. Sure, it doesn’t have the same big names — although its cast, which I’ll get to shortly, does contain names most will recognize — and the ending is significantly worse, but it is, at worst, on the same level as the original, if not slightly better.
The cast might not have the same A-list stars that were in the original film, but you’re sure to recognize some of these names, especially if you have seen more than a few direct-to-video films in your lifetime. Vinnie Jones, Autumn Reeser and Michael Parks are probably some of the most well-known names of the cast, while Tom Berenger and Clayne Crawford have their own fanbase. Tommy Flanagan is the most important returning name here. The cast is fine and play their stereotypical and gimmicky roles well. They also seem to have a lot of fun, which is always nice to see.
Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassins’ Ball is no worse than the original, and if I’m speaking honestly, I had a bit more fun with it than its predecessor. Sure, it’s a lower budget retelling of the same basic story, but it’s done with style — sometimes too much — and trims much of the unnecessary fat that filled the first installment. This one is for fans of the original who are looking for more of the same, and also the one that you should watch first if you’re getting into the series. It’s a prequel that works best if you see it before the original.