Not long after the certifiably insane Smokin' Aces came and went and then sold a LOT of dvds, we started hearing all sorts of little stories about sequels, prequels, or any sort of follow-up. Clearly someone at Universal (besides Aces director/co-writer Joe Carnahan, I mean) saw the potential in keeping this franchise afloat, even if that meant remanding the subsequent sequels to the "lesser" direct-to-video market. And even those who adored Smokin' Aces would have to see the logic there: Pretty much all the characters from the first flick were dead, and even those who survived ... aren't exactly huge stars.

So off to the video shelves we go with Smokin' Aces 2: Assassin's Ball, and this time the directorial reins are in the hands of P.J. Pesce -- and if you're looking for a guy to bang out a direct-to-video sequel, Mr. Pesce is your man. His previous films include From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter, Sniper 3, and The Lost Boys 2: The Tribe. And it's with no irony whatsoever that I opine the following: Smokin' Aces 2 is better than all three of those movies. Put together. It's clearly low-budget and frequently low-minded, but there's certainly some fun to be found.

Those who hit play expecting a "true" sequel to Smokin' Aces may find themselves confused and disappointed. As far as I can tell, the sequel has nothing to do with its predecessor aside from the appearance of two minor-but-colorful assassins. (I'll leave it to the fans to discover who's back for Part 2.) But the plot is pretty much the same as the original, and one of the main characters does play with a deck of cards pretty often. Beyond that, Smokin' Aces 2: Assassin's Ball (previously known as Smokin' Aces 2: Blowback, incidentally) is a perfectly stand-alone action flick.