Directed by Simon West
Opens January 30
Jason Statham usually plays taciturn loners with a code, so it’s a surprise to see Wild Card open with him bullying some poor schmuck in a bar. Later, it’s revealed this situation was a set-up, and of course Statham really is playing another one of his low-life professionals, a “security” man called Nick Card who works out of a lawyer’s office. The turn isn’t mandated by Statham’s persona, though—it’s held over from William Goldman’s screenplay for the Burt Reynolds movie Heat (no relation to the Mann picture), which Wild Card repurposes, leaving it unchanged enough for credit to stay with Goldman.
Goldman himself doesn’t appear to be involved, so stewardship really falls to director Simon West, who buddies up to stars of his action ensembles like Con Air or The Expendables 2 and gets hired for solo vehicles. He’s a sometime stylist; Con Air does Michael Bay better than Bay himself, while the late-period Nic Cage vehicle Stolen looks as anonymous as it sounds. West’s Wild Card isn’t exactly an action movie; it’s a character sketch with crime-drama and thriller subplots that also include a trio of brutal fight sequences—but its eclecticism, at least, feels more vintage than haphazard. West knows how to showcase Statham’s physicality in those fights, mixing slow motion appreciation and ultra-quick moves from the Stath and his assortment of small razor-edged objects (he slices one henchman’s head with a credit card, sans “transaction declined” quip).
Card works in security but harbors a self-destructive streak that keeps him from escaping his Vegas purgatory. As such, Wild Card also resembles the recent Mark Wahlberg-starring remake of The Gambler, from the seedy meandering of its story threads right on down to a discussion of what constitutes fuck-you money, better-written in William Monahan’s rewrite of James Toback. Although: maybe Monathan was also knocking off Goldman, or maybe Goldman was knocking off Toback, or maybe screenwriters really like to think about high-stakes gamblers who lose fortunes for no reason. Maybe it reminds them of people they work with. Wild Card is kind of pointless, but it goes down swinging.