Wild Card, the latest Jason Statham flick, is a surprisingly flat outing for the taciturn action hero. Written by William Goldman (adapting his novel Heat), the story has Nick Wild (Statham) working as a bodyguard in Las Vegas. He’s not against taking a gig that involves getting beaten up by a friend (Michael Papajohn), who is trying to impress his lady (Sophia Vergara). Such jobs are how Nick makes his money. He is looking to get $500,000 so he can get out of Vegas for good, and go sailing around Corsica.
Nick gets another opportunity to earn cash when a young man, Cyrus (Michael Angarano) wants to hire him as a bodyguard, but after a few hours babysitting this baby-faced guy, he calls it quits. Nick then pursues a mobster, Danny DeMarco (Milo Ventimiglia), who abused a young woman, Holly (Dominik García-Lorido), who wants revenge. She gets even with DeMarco in an awkward scene where she threatens to cut his balls off.
Sluggishly directed by Simon West—who worked with Statham before on The Mechanic and The Expendables 2—Wild Card is soporific. The scene of Holly threatening DeMarco lacks tension, or even menace. It’s uncomfortable less because of what Holly is doing to DeMarco, and more because how slackly West films it.
Likewise, a lengthy sequence in which Nick plays hand after hand of blackjack fails to yield any excitement as he bets increasing higher stakes. When a fight scene does finally break out in Wild Card, West shoots it in slow motion to the ironic strains of White Christmas, which actually makes it less interesting.
Statham does what he can with the weak material. He imbues Nick with enough of his charismatic savvy to know how to get information from a chatty housekeeper, and how to talk his way out of a potentially life-threatening situation with Baby (Stanley Tucci), who is investigating a possible murder Nick is accused of committing. However, Nick’s speech about getting “Fuck You” money seems stale here, even if it wasn’t just recounted by John Goodman’s character in the mediocre remake of The Gambler a month ago.
Wild Card almost generates some interest when Cyrus makes a not unexpected third-act revelation, but the bond between Nick and Cyrus that develops at this late stage in the film is still barely credible.
Simply put, there isn’t anything to get especially excited about here. Statham looks at sea in during the character study scenes, and the action actor has exactly 3½ fight scenes in Wild Card, and two of them come after an hour of drama has passed. Fans expecting the Statham to do his usual stunts will be sorely disappointed by—or possibly dozing off—during this slow, talky film. Retitle it Mild Card.
Wild Card is out in Philly area theaters today.
Author: Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer. He is the co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Argentina. Volumes 1 and 2, and teaches seminars at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer.