Director: Simon West
Cast: Jason Statham, Anne Heche, Sofia Vergara, Michael Angarano, Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Stanley Tucci, Hope Davis, Milo Ventimiglia, Max Casella, Jason Alexander, Max Casella
Runtime: 1 hr 32 mins
Rating: M18 (Some Nudity and Violence)
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films
Opening Day: 12 March 2015
Synopsis: Nick Wild (Jason Statham) is a Las Vegas bodyguard with lethal professional skills and a personal gambling problem. When a friend is beaten by a sadistic thug, Nick strikes back, only to find out the thug is the son of a powerful mob boss. Suddenly Nick is plunged into the criminal underworld, chased by enforcers and wanted by the mob. Having raised the stakes, Nick has one last play to change his fortunes...and this time, it's all or nothing.
There is but one ace in Jason Statham’s latest B-movie actioner, ‘Wild Card’, and that is Hong Kong action choreographer Corey Yuen. Indeed, Statham fans will remember Yuen as the co-director of one of Statham’s earliest hits ‘The Transporter’, and it probably comes as no surprise that Yuen has made Statham a cool badass all over again using his hands, feet, lightning-fast speed and some found objects. Unfortunately, Yuen doesn’t get enough time with Statham, so much so that there are but four action sequences that Yuen is responsible for in the 92 minutes this movie tries keeping its game up – and let’s just say that whenever Statham isn’t fighting off some muscled baddie, the movie slows itself to a numbing crawl.
As far as we can tell, it wasn’t supposed to be like this. In fact, ‘Wild Card’ looked to continue the British action star’s foray into more dramatically inclined fare such as the Steven Knight drama ‘Redemption’ and the Sylvester Stallone-scripted ‘Homefront’ while retaining his flair for mixed martial arts and kickboxing. Indeed, it comes from Oscar-winning pedigree – its screenwriter is William Goldman of ‘All the President’s Men’ and ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’, who adapts from his own novel titled ‘Heat’. And though its director is B-action specialist Simon West, the latter has done pretty efficient work with ‘Con Air’, Statham’s own ‘The Mechanic’ and ‘The Expendables 2’.
Alas neither screenwriter nor director does their star any favours in this tepid attempt at a character-driven Las Vegas noir punctuated by some cool action displays. The problem lies first and foremost with Goldman’s scripting, which sets Statham’s Nick Wild in two parallel narratives that largely don’t ever meet. On one hand, there is Holly (Dominik Garcia-Lorido), a call girl brutally beaten by an Italian-American gangster and his two bodyguards who asks Nick for his help to get back at her assailants. At first reluctant to even intervene to find out their identities, Nick does a 180-degree change of heart to not only reveal who they are but also break into their suite at the Golden Nugget to let her have her sweet revenge.
On the other hand is Nick’s encounter with a meek computer nerd named Cyrus (Michael Angarano) who employs Nick to show him the way around a casino. That tour leads to Nick’s own journey of self-discovery as a man fighting his gambling addiction – in particular, an extended sequence which is shot by West in a tiresomely straight-forward manner has Nick confronting that addition over the course of a few hours at the casino where he makes bet after bet through a winning streak but fails to stop himself from a final game where he throws everything in and loses the $500,000 that he made over the course of the night. That is meant as a prelude to Nick’s epiphany, but West’s dopey slo-mo pacing renders the montage of gambling scenes as inert as they can get.
While there is no denying that West doesn’t bring anything to the proceedings, it is Goldman’s self-indulgent expository dialogue that makes the whole movie feel like an interminable bore. There is absolutely no zing to any of the characters’ lines, nor much development whatsoever to any of the characters. Why Cyrus is curious to explore a world that is clearly not his own is never clear, nor for that matter why he and Nick would strike up a humanising bond. Nor does Nick’s conscience-awakening act of helping Holly build into anything meaningfully compelling, so much so that Nick’s contemplation of his sorry state and those PTSD flashbacks he's always having over a shot of whiskey is just worth a yawn.
Even more tragic is how good character actors like Stanley Tucci (who steals the only scene he has as Nick’s former boss and the owner of the Golden Nugget), Anne Heche (as a good-hearted waitress in a 24-hour diner always pouring coffee) and Hope Davis (the sexy, slick dealer working at the casino Nick wins and loses his hand) are wasted in thankless supporting parts that go absolutely nowhere. It’s telling when even such an impressive ensemble can’t elevate the movie into anything else than a forgettable lark, but even more when Statham’s own chemistry is dulled in unimaginative scenes ranging from blue-collar diners to loading docks to store rooms and to cargo elevators.
Like we said at the start, the only ace here is the few action sequences that are classic Statham, including a particularly memorable brawl on the casino floor set to The Drifters’ cover version of ‘White Christmas’. Yet four of those do not a movie make, and it is likely that you will find yourself shifting in your seats or checking your watches whenever Statham isn’t kicking ass. ‘Wild Card’ isn’t in fact the first adaptation Goldman has written of his novel; there was a 1986 film named ‘Heat’ starring Burt Reynolds that came before it, and it is perhaps no surprise that its predecessor was an abysmal flop that ended Reynolds’ reign atop the box office. Suffice to say that Goldman doesn’t any better the second time round, and it is a good thing Statham has ‘Furious 7’ out next.
(Except a grand total of four action sequences expertly choreographed by Corey Yuen, this Las Vegas noir that aims to be character-driven redemption story is simply an interminable bore)
Review by Gabriel Chong