I like a Jason Statham movie as much as the next guy. There’s also a certain pleasure in seeing Statham being beaten up by a toupee-wearing Max Casella early on in the film, and in a goon having his forehead sliced open in slow-motion with a credit card, but very little else to recommend in WILD CARD.
Swindler/hard man Nick Wild (Jason Statham) gets an assignment to chaperon a young millionaire (Michael Angarano) on his first trip to Las Vegas. While his employer behaves himself, trouble still finds Wild when he comes to the aid of a friend (Dominik García-Lorido) who has been roughed up by a mobster (Milo Ventimiglia).
I will admit that director Simon West (CON AIR) makes everything look very nice – all dingy noirish interiors and dusty shafts of light penetrating the gloom. The action is merciless and creatively choreographed to use as many props for brutal offense as possible, like Jackie Chan with added mortal injury. As a side note, are bars in America really that dark or is it just in movies? Please write in.
At the same time, film by its nature is a visual medium and characters don’t half seem to enjoy explain what’s just happened in the plot to the audience. Characters don’t evolve through their experiences or communicate their arcs through performance, they tell you what has happened to them and how they feel. It’s so basic and uninvolving. When the film does use any symbolism it’s the blindingly obvious kind – just once I’d like to see a film set in Vegas without a character contemplating a difficult decision with neon signage superimposed over their face.
Let’s take a moment to remind ourselves that William Goldman wrote BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID and THE PRINCESS BRIDE. His name was plastered all over the marketing as a draw second only to Statham. Wild Card – a film which has a side character that thinks the British are a race – doesn’t quite hold up. The writing in any scene where Nicky isn’t fighting his way out of his current situation is dull, listless, and nasty. Nicky plays an insufferable human being in the film’s opening scene, then it’s revealed it was all an act to aid in an elaborate scheme, but then he carries on behaving like an unappealing tool for the rest of the movie. Protagonists don’t have to be nice, of course, but they have to be interesting.
Another key scene revolves around Nicky doing the one thing you really can’t do in Vegas – card counting. He’s doing it blatantly, cleaning the casino out and gathering a crowd, but he isn’t asked to leave. I know, check your brain at the door and all that, but be consistent, make your film world’s internal logic work, make it tie with your action.
Even if the screenplay was up to scratch, the cast would have to do a lot more to bring it to life. Jason Statham rarely gets plaudits for his in-depth character work, but he’s shown in the past he can do comedy (CRANK), drama (SAFE) and most shades in-between (LOCK STOCK, SNATCH). Here, he’s just going through the motions with support from an uninspiring García-Lorido and a laughable Ventimiglia. Michael Angarano is OK but there’s nothing to his character and Stanley Tucci is wasted appearing in a single scene.
I wasn’t expecting the Earth from Wild Card, so I suppose I wasn’t overly disappointed. Even for Jason Statham fans it might be a struggle to sit through, for though it delivers the bone-crunching action you’ve come to expect, there’s no fun or vitality to the characters, story, or scripting so everything ends up feeling really laboured once the punching stops. If I were you, I wouldn’t bother. SSP