Film director puts Tahoe in spotlight with mob movie

What if Frank Sinatra decided to be a mob boss?

Joe Carnahan turned the thought of the swooner who hung out at Tahoe's North Shore into the idea for "Smokin' Aces," an R-rated action flick soaked with comedy from an all-star cast set in Stateline and South Lake Tahoe.

The Sacramento native wanted Lake Tahoe as one of the main environments in his film for its beauty and its casinos.

Carnahan described Lake Tahoe as the "gaming industry took a dump in God's county."

The main character in the film, Jeremy Piven, plays a Las Vegas magician who escapes to South Shore after agreeing to snitch on the Mafia for the FBI.

In his mind, Carnahan, 37, thought South Shore worked perfectly for its tendency to have aging acts, or A-list performers at the twilight of their careers.

In addition, the spacing of the Horizon and its across-the-street neighbor MontBleu allowed for scenes suitable for Carnahan's vision. One scene in the previews for "Smokin' Aces" has a hit woman firing a gigantic sniper gun from Horizon to a section of MontBleu, renamed the Nomad in the movie.

Carnahan and crew spent two weeks in South Shore filming in October 2005. The casino was still Caesars but it was going through a sale.

According to the International Movie Database, Carnahan has written six movies and directed five, including "Smokin' Aces." His last production was 2002's "Narc," starring Ray Liotta and Jason Patric.

His upcoming projects include "Bunny Lake is Missing" with Reese Witherspoon and the sequel to "L.A. Confidential" called "White Jazz" with George Clooney. Another project is the story around drug czar Pablo Escobar's death.

"I love it because I'm really fascinated with moral ambiguity, with people not being really good or bad," he said.

In "Smokin' Aces," there seems to be plenty of good and mostly bad. FBI agents, Mafia members and prostitutes dot the movie. The "Smokin' Aces" cast listed on the International Movie Database Web site list includes character descriptions such as "Pistol" Pete Deeks, bikini babe, strip club owner, pimply casino employee, call girl and victim No. 2.

Sometimes the art mirrored reality. Carnahan recalled actor Ben Affleck, who plays a hit man, playing blackjack in one of the casinos and loaning money to his real-life father.

If you go

"Smokin' Aces"

The mob film shot at Stateline and South Lake Tahoe will show beginning Friday.

Rating: "Smokin' Aces," a Universal Pictures release, is rated R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use.

Running time: 109 minutes.

Movie times

• Hollywood Theaters

2571 N. Carson St.

1:20 p.m., 3:50 p.m., 7:10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday

9:55 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Matinee prices $5.50, regular admission $8.25

Bargain matinee prices valid before 6 p.m.

• Ironwood Cinema

1760 Highway 395 in Minden

10:15 a.m., 1 p.m., 3:34 p.m., 6:45 p.m.

9:40 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Matinee prices $5.50, regular admission $8.75

Matinee prices valid until 5 p.m. weekdays, 2 p.m. weekends

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