Review: Wild Card
PLOT: Nick Wild (Jason Statham) is a freelance Las Vegas bodyguard who dreams of retiring to Venice a dream that is hampered by the fact that hes a gambling addict and tends to burn through whatever meager funds he earns at the dingiest casinos in town. When a call girl friend of his is brutalized by a well-connected thug (Milo Ventimiglia), Nick risks his neck to help her get some well-deserved payback.
REVIEW: If Liam Neeson is turning into the modern-day Charles Bronson, Jason Statham is probably the closest well get to a Chuck Norris. If hed been making movies in the eighties, he would have been a natural for the Cannon Films stable (in fact, the company he mostly works for Millennium is run by former Cannon employees). Typically his programmers are harmless, if usually unexceptional. However, what distinguishes Statham from many other tough-guys is that for every punch-up action movie he makes like PARKER or HOMEFRONT, he tries to do something a little different, like THE BANK JOB, BLITZ, REDEMPTION and now WILD CARD.
Admittedly, his attempts to shake things up are modest as he pretty much always plays a variation on the same character, which is a tough-guy loner with a mysterious past whos tough with his fists and feet. Still, those movies (especially the rock-solid BANK JOB and REDEMPTION) are usually way better than the routine action films he churns out and Statham, for his limited range, clearly has more talent than hes given credit for.
WILD CARD is actually a remake of an old eighties Burt Reynolds flick, HEAT (obviously not to be confused with the Michael Mann movie). Why remake a movie like HEAT? The thing is, HEAT had a hell of a pedigree, with it being adapted by the famous William Goldman (BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID) from his own novel. The finished product ended up being mostly a disaster as the original director, Robert Altman, apparently walked after the first day, and two more directors ended up finishing the film. Its not a very good movie but there are moments of inspiration, along with some cool dialogue and a really underrated performance by Reynolds.
Thus, WILD CARD is actually kind of a do-over for Goldman, with this new version adhering fairly closely to the original film (complete with the occasional out of date reference, such as one to IBM executives) but being much better as its got a solid director at the helm (Statham favorite Simon West), good production values and an incredible supporting cast. At the center of it all is Statham, whos allowed to stretch in what would far-more-accurately be described as a character piece than an all-out-action movie (although there are a few good scraps).While Statham doesnt have the world-weariness of the character as nailed-down as Reynolds did, he feels like a good fit for the part. Wild is different than the usual Statham character. Hes not particularly bright or even especially brave and hed much rather hit the craps table than fight. Whats interesting is that WILD CARD covers a lot of the same ground as another recent remake, THE GAMBLER, but much more effectively. While that film had lots of pseudo-intellectual mumbo-jumbo about gambling and loss, WILD CARD ditches all that just portraying Statham as a guy who just doesnt know when to quit when hes hitting the tables. Its actually far more effective, and theres a bit where Statham makes and then gambles away half-a-million dollars thats way better than anything in the better-heeled GAMBLER.
Its worth noting that outside of SNATCH, WILD CARD boasts the best cast Stathams ever worked with, with lots of big character actors playing small parts. Jason Alexander has one scene as the crooked lawyer Statham shares office space with, while Hope Davis shines as a croupier horrified by Stathams addiction, but forced to enable it. Michael Angarano is really strong as a young Mark Zukerberg-type figure who hires Statham to make him tough, and their oil-and-water relationship gives the film some humor, although in a break from the norm Statham never insults the brainy guy, but rather seems to instantly bond with him. While prominently featured in the trailers, Sofia Vergara only has a cameo, as the girlfriend of a guy who pays Statham to take a beating so he can prove to her that hes manly and worth marrying.
While definitely not an action movie, WILD CARD still does have some decent fights (including a great one scored by a peppy version of White Christmas), with most revolving around the Milo Ventimiglia subplot, as a local sadist who brutally attacks a call-girl played by Dominik Garcia-Lorido (who Ive never heard of but is actually very good here). This leads to the only real thriller aspects of the film, but even this plays out somewhat differently than youd expect, especially the climatic scenes with Stanley Tucci in a scene-stealing turn as a smooth Vegas gangster (memorably named Baby).
Granted, WILD CARD isnt perfect. The ending is a little abrupt, and the final ultra-violent action scene feels like it was tacked-on to appeal to Stathams core audience. Something subtler would have been better. It also has too convenient a denouement, but outside maybe the last fifteen minutes or so, WILD CARD is a surprisingly solid vehicle for Statham. Even if youve gotten a little tired of his more generic films, this is one thats worth checking out. Hes clearly giving it his all, and it proves that given the right material Statham can be as good as anyone.
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