Aces smokin' in Tahoe

The Lake Tahoe Basin will be the primary environment in the upcoming "Smokin' Aces" movie, a fast-action film with A-list stars like Andy Garcia, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven, Ben Affleck and Ryan Reynolds. The movie will be released Jan. 26.

Unlike other movies filmed at Lake Tahoe, "Smokin' Aces" will not say it was set in Wyoming or Alaska.

The movie is certain to add to Lake Tahoe's mob lore, with protagonist Piven playing Buddy Israel, a Las Vegas magician turned mob informant who uses Stateline as a hideout after a bounty is put on his head. Seven hit men and the FBI race to either erase or save his life.

"(Director Joe Carnahan) felt the 'Godfather' movie gave it the right ambiance," said Robin Holabird, deputy director for the Nevada Film Office. "He thought real life gangsters would hang out in Tahoe. There is enough historical precedence that it will ring true for the audience."

Those familiar with Lake Tahoe will recognize Stateline casinos, the lobby of Horizon, Cave Rock, the Lake Tahoe Airport, Highway 50 and the interior of Shoreline Cafe. The opening view of South Lake Tahoe is from a helicopter.

"The whole thing is scripted as South Lake Tahoe," said Denise Collins, assistant location manager for the movie.

The interior of the casinos was mostly done in Los Angeles studios although Ruby Turner, who works in the marketing department of Horizon, had to move guests from their room at 4 a.m. so a shot could take place.

"That was a little different," she said.

The last major movie filmed in Lake Tahoe was 1998's "City of Angels," starring Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan.

The Hallmark Channel has a tendency to film in Tahoe, with some of the more recent being "Out of the Woods" with Ed Asner and "Straight from the Heart." Shoots for Eddie Bauer and car commercials are also frequent.

Asked about the marketing budget of "Smokin' Aces," director Joe Carnahan said "quite a bit." Previews are dotting the television landscape, and ads are embedded throughout the Internet and the movie's Web site, www.smokinaces.net.

Although Patrick Kaler, executive director of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority, thinks the movie won't attract people to the region like "Sideways" did to the Santa Barbara wine country, interest for Lake Tahoe should be piqued.

"I think it's a great opportunity for us even though it's probably not the feel good movie of the year," he said with a laugh.

"Obviously looking at the trailers you know it's Lake Tahoe and that's very exciting for us," he added. "I don't think people will necessarily come here because of the movie, but it will be something in people's minds."

The movie could elicit more interest from Hollywood to shoot in the area, said Holabird. The star power alone should be enough to lure crowds with Piven being recognized in HBO's "Entourage," Reynolds starring in hit comedies such as "Waiting" and R&B musicians Alicia Keys and Common making their film debuts.

Tahoe movie and ski buffs will recognize Peter Berg, who starred in "Aspen Extreme" and directed "Very Bad Things" in the movie. Plus there is the gravitational-like pull of Andy Garcia, Ray Liotta and Ben Affleck.

"I'd loved to be compared to the Godfather," Carnahan said.

"Smokin' Aces" opens Jan. 26. A possibility remains for a special screening to be held at the Wallace Theaters at the Horizon with Carnahan and others associated with the movie.

"I'm trying to do one, man," Carnahan said. "That would be fantastic."

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