Wild Card

Just before the half-way point in Wild Card, you suddenly realize that despite the ensemble involved, despite the fact that it’s written by arguably the greatest screenwriter of all time and despite its luscious and slick style, it’s actually tediously turgid.

The problem is, it really shouldn’t be so bad. In fact, it's frustrating to see just how wildly flawed and disastrously imbalanced Wild Card becomes. Especially since it fails to make the most out of the cavalcade of cinematic talent that it has at its disposal. Jason Statham, who has firmly established himself as a likeable yet daunting screen presence, leads the way as Nick Wild, a recovering gambler who works a variety of security jobs to pay for his addiction. After his ex-girlfriend is badly beaten and raped by a group of Vegas criminals, Wild helps her get revenge. But then he can’t help but spend the reward she give him at a blackjack table.

With Nick Wild, Jason Statham -- who championed the film himself for the last five years -- plays a more-rounded and complex character than we’ve been accustomed to seeing him portray in recent years. In fact, not since the start of his career, when he stole the show in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, has Statham had the opportunity to truly sink his teeth into a role this dense. Unfortunately though, despite the fact that Statham deploys his usual everyman machismo that we’re used to seeing from him, Wild Card fails to provide him with the script or intriguing characterisation to flourish.

Which is a bona-fide tragedy, because Wild Card comes from the mind of arguably the greatest screenwriter in Hollywood history: William Goldman. The man who molded Butch with Cassidy, Princess with Bride and also had a hand in the likes of A Bridge Too Far, All The President’s Men and Marathon Man deserves better than this. But it also must be said that his script is Wild Card’s main issue.

A quick little history lesson: Wild Card is based on Goldman’s 1985 novel, "Heat," which itself was turned into a 1986 action-thriller starring Burt Reynolds. However, William Goldman himself later admitted that the shoot for Heat was a disaster (six directors worked on the film in just a 36-day shoot), and it tanked both critically and financially. The 2015 adaptation, which has seen William Goldman re-writing the 1986 script to match his vision, fails to amend its sullied reputation.

It’s plain to see just how ambitious and free Wild Card wants to be. However, plots and characters are systematically dropped, and this failure to settle results in it being a hotchpotch of ideas that never come close to gelling together. Its paltry 90-minute running time begins to drag around the half hour mark, and even the sporadic intervention of its terrific ensemble cast (which includes Sofia Vergara, Stanley Tucci, Hope Davis, Jason Alexander, and Max Casella) fails to jolt it back into life. In the end though, Wild Card is truly lacking because each of these characters have been seen on-screen dozens of times before. They’re banal to begin with and then aren’t given room to develop into anything even remotely interesting. This would be fine if Wild Card made up for this with intrigue, tension or action. But it doesn’t.

There are some plus points though. Director Simon West shoots Vegas perfectly. The lurid neon of its skyline shine decadently against the black night, while the film’s action scenes (all three of them) were the only moments of excitement amongst a barrage of humdrum dialogue. However West’s overly stylized approach, while sometimes pretty, only succeeds in highlighting just how little substance Wild Card has. In the end, nice musical touches and a rather brutal - but predictable - final fight scene prove that Wild Card isn’t all bad. Just that 95% of it is.

Gregory Wakeman