(In theaters, January 2007) The little hyper-caffeinated action film has become a staples of winter movie-going and in these matters, you could do worse than Joe Carnahan’s long-awaited return to the screen after 2002’s Narc. This effort hims him juggling dozens of characters in an action film that owes as much to comic-book plotting than to straight-up criminal mayhem. Loosely stated, Smokin’ Aces is about dozens of paid killers converging on a hotel where a would-be prosecution witness is staying. With that many characters, it doesn’t take a long time before they clash together and start taking themselves down. The cheerfully chaotic nature of the plotting starts early and ends up past the point of ridiculousness (with a nod to Carnahan’s “Ticker” short film), but it’s a fun ride. Alicia Keys is particularly enjoyable as an assassin on the cusp of big decisions, and so is Ryan Reynolds as one of the few characters firmly committed to justice. The film’s best scene comes along with a hail of big-calibre bullets: It’ll thrill you just as it will make you deaf. While the build-up is better than the end result (a statement that also goes for the trailer versus the film), the film itself leaves a good impression, as long as all expectations are in check, and as long as you expect the right type of film.