‘Wild Card’: Film Review

Statham is leaving Las Vegas, but not before he kicks some ass

Director Simon West and action star Jason Statham team up for another round

Gamblers beware. If you think the odds are high that a Vegas-set Jason Statham movie – and one directed by Simon West (The Expendables 2) – will include lots of skull busting and slot machine smashing, then you may want to lower your bets.

Not that Wild Card doesn’t have a few vintage Stathamanical beat downs, with such items as a credit card, a tablespoon and a pair of garden shears used in ways you could only imagine. But the action otherwise takes a back seat to boilerplate dramatics and offbeat existential brooding in this underwhelming though slickly helmed crime flick, which was adapted – and not for the first time – by the great William Goldman (Marathon Man) from his own novel. Released mid-January in France before going out Stateside at the end of the month, the film should cash in on Statham’s loyal fan base, but will be a letdown to anyone looking for a real thrill ride.

An opening sequence, where Sin City bodyguard Nick Wild (Statham) receives a major whupping at the hands of a nebbish ladies’ man (Max Casella), reveals that this will not be your typical Statham actioner. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, although what comes next isn’t really better: a bizarre melange of Mafioso-fueled plot cliches and vodka-fueled self-pity, as if Leaving Las Vegas and Rush Hour 2 had been tossed into a mixer, shaken, stirred and served with way too much ice.

Nick’s dream is to make $500K so he can live on a boat in Corsica, but given his deadbeat job and depressing motel apartment, he’s a long way from his goal. When an old galfriend (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) rings him up after being viciously assaulted, Nick can’t help but track down the culprit – a visiting mobster (Milo Ventimiglia) shacked up with his cronies at the Golden Nugget (which receives some highly unflattering advertising here – or else some very good product placement, pending on whether your vacation plans include rape, murder or complimentary drink vouchers.)

The first brawl occurs between Nick and the baddies at around the 40-minute mark, and although it’s well choreographed by Corey Yuen (The Transporter series) and covered by DP Shelly Johnson (Captain America: The First Avenger) in slow-mo, fast-mo and extreme close-ups, it doesn’t make up for the overall shortage of adrenaline. Meanwhile, a subplot involving a zealous young Bostonian (Michael Angarano) who hires Nick to guard him for a night, isn’t fleshed out enough and winds up getting dropped, then picked up again, when Nick nearly strikes it big.

Indeed, the highlight of Wild Card may not be its trio of fight scenes but the extended gambling sequence where Nick bets his future on a few hands of blackjack (with Hope Davis cameoing as a downbeat local dealer). Statham is good at keeping his cards close as an actor, and manages to build tension here without doing too much. Yet even that scene is followed by a ridiculous one that has Nick staring deeply into his soul in the bathroom mirror, then beating the crap out of a hand dryer.

Set in present-day Vegas but entrenched in movie stereotypes (especially the mob stuff) that have been around for decades, the script offers up an incongruous combo of old and (slightly) new, as if Goldman stepped in to just touch up a few scenes – of a 1986 screenplay that was made into the Burt Reynolds starrer Heat – so that they would fit Statham’s pedigree.

The results fall short of the latter’s previous collaboration with West, The Mechanic, whose doses of stylized combat made up for its general lack of subtlety. Here the team doesn’t quite deliver on the action front, while the story of Nick’s booze-soaked redemption fails to captivate. By doubling down on a movie that yearns to be both introspective and bone-crunchingly cool, Wild Card overplays its hand.

Opens: Wednesday, Jan. 14, (in France); Friday, Jan. 30 (in U.S.)
Production companies: SJ Heat Productions, in association with Sierra / Affinity, Cinema Seven Productions
Cast: Jason Statham, Michael Angarano, Milo Ventimiglia, Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Anne Heche, Sofia Vergara, Max Casella, Jason Alexander, Stanley Tucci, Hope Davis
Director: Simon West
Screenwriter: William Goldman, based on his novel “Heat”
Producer: Steve Chasman
Executive producers: Nick Meyer, Marc Schaberg, Cassian Elwes, Robert Earl, Brian Pitt, Jib Polhemus
Director of photography: Shelly Johnson
Production designer: Greg Berry
Costume designer: Lizz Wolf
Editors: MPadriac McKinley, Thomas J. Nordberg
Composer: Dario Marianelli
Casting director: Barbara Fiorentino
Action choreography: Corey Yuen
Sales: Sierra / Affinity

R rating, 91 minutes