Wild Card review

Simon West‘s Wild Card is rooted in William Goldman’s 1985 novel Heat but has more in common with the 1986 feature film adaptation of the same source material, also scripted by Goldman; and while West has made some of his own updates to that eighties-set story about a soldier of fortune living in Las Vegas, he has thankfully kept the best of Goldman’s screenplay intact.

The protagonist of Wild Card is Nick Wild, played by Jason Statham – the decision to switch to this surname from Escalante was presumably West’s choice. We’re first introduced to the character in an intriguing sequence that paints him as very unpleasant type, but it’s a bait and switch. West executes the sequence reasonably well but it’s still obvious that Statham’s character is not actually the creep he’s trying to appear.

And this is the first example of a key problem that dogs the film throughout. Statham shows no ability to convey complexity or nuance in his character; admittedly, this is a problem that has plagued his body of work in general. He speaks at all times in the same, unmodulated deep growl and his face rarely escapes from a fixed mix of a snarl and something approaching exhausted sadness.

Despite that unmoving exterior, Goldman has written a rich inner life for Nick Wild. He frequently slips into imagining a fantasy future where he might sail a boat around Corsica, updating the Venice dream of the original book and film; and he’s struggling both with a gambling addiction, and with a fractured relationship with Holly (Dominik Garcia-Lorido). The character has been well-shaded on the page, and could have made for an interesting lead role had Statham not played it all at the same level.

Statham is more at home with the action sequences, and it’s there he’s able to deliver the best of his performance. The action is, without a doubt, the film’s strong point, even if the execution sometimes comes up short on a technical level.

The real showcase action scene in Wild Card sees Nick singlehandedly clear a a Vegas bar of a whole pile of men sent to capture him. The sequence is expertly choreographed by the highly skilled Corey Yuen, and cinematographer Shelly Johnson does a reasonably decent job of capturing the action. Unfortunately, West and the editors show a propensity to cut too quickly, and most specifically to cut around the various impacts, which detracts significantly from what is otherwise a really rather good scene.

A later sequence in which Nick fends off another large group of armed men with the aid of some cutlery isn’t up to the same standard of the bar scene, largely because of the incredibly messy camerawork and editing, but it does score a lot of points for invention and perhaps even some for being gory in a way that feels in keeping with the film’s darker story beats.

There are times when Wild Card could be just another Statham vehicle, much like The Mechanic, Blitz or Safe, but the writing is interesting enough, with an engaging plot and some smart dialogue, and the action has sufficient power that this picture, overall, stands that little bit taller.

Not a highpoint for Goldman by any stretch, but certainly an outlier in the careers of West and Statham, Wild Card is in UK cinemas now.