I must confess to having a soft spot for Jason Statham. Along with The Rock, he’s the last of the old-fashioned action stars. And much like Dwayne Johnson, he’s also a far better actor than his heavily accented 1980s forbearers. Statham might specialize in C-grade action flicks, but at least he’s good at it and often picks projects strong enough that they can feel B-grade. Statham’s latest adventure in Cockney ass-kickery is ‘Wild Card’. While the movie is not his best (that would be the ‘Crank’ series for those playing at home), it’s also far from his worst.
‘Wild Card’ actually isn’t even a straight action movie, but a strange semi-comic Vegas character piece with splashes of violence. It’s a pretty bizarre little movie by Statham standards. The film is undeniably flawed, yet kind of fun in its own weird rambling way
Statham stars in a particularly Stathspearean role as a badass for hire in Las Vegas. His character Nick Wild (yes, that’s really his name) works out of the office of a lawyer (Jason Alexander, of all people). Ostensibly, his job is to find and possibly rough up people for said lawyer. However, he’s also a “Statham for Hire” who does anything from escorting nervous nellies around Vegas to putting the fear of god into any no goodnicks about.
The rambling plot sees Wild hired out for such jobs as helping a nerd (Max Casella) seem tough in front of his girlfriend (Sophia Vergara) and chaperone an internet billionaire (Michael Angarano) through casinos. Then he gets a call from his good friend and call girl (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) who was brutally assaulted by a mobbed-up out of town thug (Milo Ventimiglia). Wild knows that if he helps her get revenge, he’ll have to answer to the local mob boss (Stanley Tucci) and that could be trouble. But he’s such an honorable badass that he can’t help himself. Plus, Wild flirts a bit with his favorite local waitress (Anne Heche) and blackjack dealer (Hope Davis) and has a ridiculously lucky/productive night of gambling. So… yeah, there’s a lot going on here that kind of adds up to a plot and kind of doesn’t.
Before discussing ‘Wild Card’ further, I should mention the project’s long history. It’s technically a remake of a horrible 1986 Burt Reynolds movie called ‘Heat’. That movie started as a script by the great William Goldman (‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’, ‘The Princess Bride’) and was supposed to be directed by the equally great Robert Altman before he quit after a few days of fighting with Reynolds and left the movie to be cobbled together by two other reluctant directors. The original film is a sloppy disaster. This version uses the same screenplay, which combined Goldman’s crackling dialogue and characterization with Altman’s rambling character tapestry structure. Then action and fight scenes were added to capitalize on the undeniable Stathamness of the new star.
So, ‘Wild Card’ is a damn weird movie. Sometimes it plays as a comedic character portrait and sometimes it plays as a sleazy revenge flick. Some scenes reach for Goldman’s sense of larger-than-life iconography, while others dig down to bargain bin stupid action. It’s an odd concoction of elements that often feel like a mess and just as often feel charmingly shaggy. If nothing else, it’s never boring.
Directing duties fell to Simon West, a former music video director who has made some crap (‘Tomb Raider’… shudder) as well as two hysterically cheesy action blockbusters played for laughs (‘Con Air’ and ‘The Expendables 2’), as well as the underrated Statham-starring remake of ‘The Mechanic’. West is no genius, but he’s kind of an inspired choice for this strange little movie. He works well with actors and gets some delightful supporting turns out of the likes of Tucci, Davis and Angarano. He also has a keen sense of humor, which saves Goldman’s script from moments of portentous excess. Most importantly, he knows exactly how to tailor a movie to his star’s particular skill set and gets the most out of The Stath’s Cockney charm and lethal fists.
Nothing can completely overcome the awkwardly episodic structure and odd meaninglessness of Goldman’s dusty screenplay, but the movie gets enough entertainment value on a scene-by-scene basis that it doesn’t quite matter when things don’t add up. There’s something oddly engrossing and charming about this weird little movie that’s somehow simultaneously an eccentric character comedy, a B-grade action flick, and an exploration of fate. It might flop and fail at times, but always does so on its own quirky terms.
I can’t imagine that ‘Wild Card’ will be a hit given that it’s too weird and talky for Statham’s core audience, while also far too meaninglessly sleazy and Stathamy for serious cinemagoers. Nonetheless, for those select few viewers who enjoy both ‘California Split’ and ‘The Transporter 2’, there’s something compelling about this oddball little movie. It’s no masterpiece, but it is unconventionally entertaining by Jason Statham standards. That ain’t much, but it’s something.