Movie Review: “Wild Card” is a cut above Statham’s usual C-movies

wildWe Jason Statham aficionados accept grace notes in his films where we find them. And there’s a gem tucked in the middle of “Wild Card,” his
latest.
The scene — a diner, where veteran Vegas bodyguard and luckless gambler Nick Wild (Statham) is collecting information on somebody who beat
up a gal pal of his. Statham shares the table with Daviena McFadden, playing hotel housekeeper Millicent. Like everybody else Nick is friends
with, he “did something for me once.” So she owes him.
He asks her, and the plump/sassy Millicent goes off on how fine he is, what she’d do to Nick in the sack. Even though he’s English. Because
honey, she’s in housekeeping. She knows those people “smell.”
And British director Simon West’s camera catches the British Statham cracking that cool facade, almost breaking character. The lines are laugh-out-loud funny,
and his reaction (McFadden must have been mugging and riffing to him for his close-ups, too) is a first in a Statham film, and hilarious.
“Wild Card” is a meandering, scatterbrained Vegas character thriller written by one of the greatest screenwriters of all time, William “Marathon
Man/Misery/The Princess Bride” Goldman. So even though it’s more random than riveting, only clever and coherent in fits and starts, even
though Statham has long told interviewers (myself included) that he chooses projects based on who the fight choreographer (Cory Yuen) is, “Wild Card” is a cut above the generic Jason.
Nick crosses swords with a standard-issue rich hoodlum (Milo Ventimiglia) who likes to beat up hookers, and much of the movie has his hour of
reckoning, when the mob guy’s hoods show up, hanging over it.
There’s a young rich dork (Michael Angarano) who hires Nick for protection, and to absorb some of his toughness and cool. There’s a waitress
(Anne Heche) who always seats him near the diner’s resident male hustler, so they can overhear his sexual come-ons and laugh at them. Hope
Davis plays the blackjack dealer with the heart of gold. Every Nick winning streak ends with her saying “Black Jack! I lose more friends that
way.”
Jason Alexander is Nick’s one-scene lawyer-friend, the guy who shares an office with him.
The opening has Nick bullying around Max Casella so he can impress his girlfriend (Sofia Vergara). And the finale features Stanley Tucci. All
these stars, taking on a single scene or two in a Jason Statham film, just to do Goldman’s golden lines.
Statham gets most of them, like when he feels “the weight” of “all the gamblers in all the casinos in the world” on what will be, “one way or
another…my last night in Vegas.”
The fights — three big ones — are the usual Statham specials. Nick closes his eyes and dreams of sailing off Corsica, before launching into each brawl. A neat trick, stabbing a knife into the trigger guard of a bad guy’s pistol to keep it from firing. Director Simon “Con Air/The Mechanic” West and the editors cut these fights to Nick’s favorite R & B tunes. Since this is Christmas time, one brawl is set to The Drifters’ swinging cover of “White Christmas.”
Still, “Wild Card” is somewhat less than the sum of its many amusing or at least unusual parts. But with Goldman, West and all these classy co-stars, he’s at least kicking butt in better company these days.

2stars1

MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, language and some sexuality/nudity

Cast: Jason Statham, Hope Davis, Anne Heche, Michael Angarano, Stanley Tucci, Max Casella, Sofia Vergara

Credits: Directed by Simon West, script by William Goldman, based on his novel. A Lionsgate release.

Running time: 1:32

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