Wild Card, the latest starring vehicle for action superstar Jason Statham and director Simon West (now years removed from his success with Con Air), is the kind of film I hate writing about. There are only so many ways to say that something isn’t terrible, but is so unexceptional in every way that almost nothing sticks or lasts even seconds after it happens in the film. It’s the worst thing any film can be: it’s leaden and dull. When you’ve made a leaden and dull noir-ish thriller, however, you’ve done something terribly and almost inexcusably wrong.
A remake that precisely no one on Earth was clamouring for, Wild Card comes from a script by noted writer William Goldman, author of the source material novel and writer of the 1986 starring Burt Reynolds Las Vegas set thriller Heat. All this means is that three times now Goldman has gotten this story wrong, but everyone involved here just seemed to want to go along with this idea anyway.
Statham stars as Nick Wild, a compulsive gambler and drunk who makes his living as a bodyguard or professional wingman for those who need one when arriving in Sin City. He’s called upon by a spoiled, sympathetic rich kid (Michael Angarano) to make sure he stays out of trouble, and more importantly contacted by a call girl friend (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) to help apprehend a John with mob ties (Milo Ventimiglia) who got violently out of control and tried to leave her for dead. When things start to get deadly, Nick is forced into deciding if he wants to stay and fight or trying to earn enough cash to skip town for good.
Goldman has penned a handful of unimpeachable screenplays (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Misery, The Princess Bride), but is responsible for many more forgettable misfires (Memoirs of an Invisible Man, The Ghost and the Darkness, Dreamcatcher). Wild Card – and by extension Heat and his novel – definitely fall into the latter category. It’s all very standard and uninteresting posturing and male ego stroking based around a character so thin that every supporting player around it has to be at least three times as crazy to offset the black hole at the centre of the film.
Nick Wild is such a malformed blunt instrument that Statham can’t do much with the character. You could replace Nick with an anthropomorphized rubber mallet and just have a bunch of crazy people talk to it. The results would be precisely the same from a filmmaking standpoint and possibly more entertaining for the audience. Statham has charisma, but there’s no character here for that to play off of. It’s not the actor’s fault, it’s completely and unequivocally the fault of Goldman and producers who thought this was a workable and worthwhile project.
One thing that a Statham vehicle should never be is boring. Most of his films aren’t exactly critical darlings and some are dreadful, but it’s hard to recall one that feels more like watching a clock very slowly tick down the running time on screen. West – who previously utilized Statham much more effectively in the remake of The Mechanic and The Expendables 2 – can’t even inject enough action to fill in the dull gaps where Nick just sits around drinking, playing blackjack, and frets about his lot in life. There are a couple of well choreographed fights that cleverly showcase Wild’s distaste for traditional weapons, but they’re few and far between, and with the exception of a sequence where Nick has to fight his way out of a casino, over far too quickly.
The only thing that keeps this from becoming a complete snore is the almost inexplicably stacked supporting cast of great actors who are unquestionably slumming it by showing up here because their agents simply said “it’s a William Goldman screenplay.” Angarano is actually quite likable as the naive youngster who wants to learn how to be brave from Nick. His chemistry with Statham makes their scenes together quite nice. Ventimiglia is sufficiently slimy as the film’s appropriately entitled and sleazy psychopath. Jason Alexander shows up almost exclusively so West can get reaction shots of him in a single scene as Nick’s lawyer officemate. Hope Davis and Anne Heche show up as service industry workers, both very thanklessly. Sofia Vergara only shows up for the film’s incredibly hateful towards women opening scene, never to be seen or heard from again. But the best of all has to be Stanley Tucci, showing up late in the film as the charismatic owner and operator of the Golden Nugget and promptly shoving the whole film under his arms and running away with whatever he can. His one scene is so great, he could have salvaged the movie entirely by being in one or two more.
Alas, that never happens and after his departure there’s a pretty low key, but well staged final showdown in a parking lot behind a diner before the inevitable shrug of an ending. It’s a weak note that sends a film that would never have been great with this material. The fact that Goldman has now done this story three times in his career is inexplicable since it has never been good. Given that this latest incarnation is coming to limited theatres and VOD the same day with a remarkably minimal amount of fanfare should be all anyone needs to know about this one.
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