Jason Statham takes on Las Vegas, but even with an Oscar-winning screenwriter, this is one gamble that just doesn’t pay off
Who would have expected to come out of a Jason Statham action movie wishing they’d seen more bruising, bone-crunching, blood-swilling and mindless violence: in that way, Wild Card has a surprise twist.Wild Card is a remake of the 1986 Burt Reynolds flick Heat, and is adapted by Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men) from his own novel. That credit alone should tell you all you need to know about Wild Card – it’s not your typical Jason Statham vehicle. The original Heat was an all-round flop: a box office failure with decidedly mixed reviews and a rotating directorial chair that saw Robert Altman, Dick Richards and Jerry Jameson all attached at some point.Richards had a notoriously difficult on-set relationship with Reynolds, and quit the production after he was reportedly punched in the face by the star, and later launched a lawsuit. This amped-up remake was helmed by just one director, with Simon West collaborating with Statham again after action movies The Mechanic and The Expendables 2. While you wouldn’t necessarily call Wild Card a rip-roaring success, rest assured that it doesn’t seem to be as much of a disaster as Heat.
Statham plays Nick Wild, a compulsive gambler and muscle-for-hire in Las Vegas (where else?) who’s just trying to get that one big pay-out he needs to get out of Vegas and start a new life. The film looks as though it’s subverting our expectations for a Statham movie from the very beginning, with Wild getting beaten up by a weedy-looking guy (Max Casella) in a car park in the opening sequence.
However, this soon turns out to be a cunning ruse designed to make the would-be thug look tough in front of his out-of-his-league girlfriend (Sofia Vergara) and make Wild some cold hard cash. From here the film plays out into various mismatched storylines and sequences, with its genre never really clear – is it a modern action movie, a weak take on a hard-boiled detective story, a classic Vegas heist movie, or is it something else entirely?
Wild quickly establishes that he wants to get out of the muscle/gambling business and start a new life somewhere other than Sin City, but inevitably he must overcome some obstacles on his way to earn enough money to escape. To help his financial plight, Wild takes a job as a bodyguard and general mentor-in-toughness for a nerdy new client Cyrus (Michael Angarano). After initially refusing to get involved, Wild also eventually joins prostitute Holly (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) in a quest for revenge after her brutal rape and beating by gangster Danny DeMarco (Milo Ventimiglia).
DeMarco isn’t exactly the most threatening criminal to ever grace the silver screen and the idea that he’s some kind of untouchable gangster is less than credible, even for a Jason Statham movie. But, even if it does little else, this plotline does showcase the film’s stellar fight choreography and Wild’s pretty impressive skill at turning everyday objects into weapons of deadly destruction (we’re talking medallions, credit cards, spoons…)
There are some genuinely entertaining fight sequences highlighting what Statham does best but not enough to keep Wild Card interesting.
West’s direction seems to make this film last for a lot longer than it needs to – more classic Statham fight scenes might have broken up the monotony of repetitive soul-searching. In fairness, thanks to the Academy Award-calibre of the screenwriter there are some cracking lines of dialogue spread throughout the film, and the supporting cast boasts some impressive and recognisable names, with the likes of Stanley Tucci, Anne Heche, and Hope Davis all featuring. Tucci’s turn in particular, as the boss of a casino, stands out as a compelling yet frustratingly fleeting role in a film that could have used a bit more nuance.
Wild Card ultimately feels like a few different movies all stuffed into one and a half hours. It’s mildly entertaining in parts, and frustratingly plodding in others. Serious Statham fans will likely flock to this film and enjoy seeing their muscular hero fighting off villains with the aforementioned spoon, but other than cutlery-based martial arts there’s really not that much to shout about. Wild spends the entire film whining about how much he wants to leave Vegas, and by the midpoint of the film found you'll be willing to loan him the cash in the vague hope it'll be over sooner.
Wild Card is probably an upgrade on Heat, but it’s certainly not one of Statham’s more memorable roles. A punchy screenplay and a promising supporting cast sound like the jackpot, but there’s just too many characters, plotlines and pointless elements for it all to work out in the end, and the film comes to a rather rushed end, with several of the end pay-offs less than mind-blowing. Combining narratives of the Vegas gambler, a pretty-boy gangster, a wronged woman and the nerd who learns to be brave feels like stacking a deck with way too many cards.
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