Every week, the folks at iTunes find a movie they like and make it available to rent for the low, low price of $0.99. I’m here to tell you whether that film is worth your hard earned dollar.
Leaving Las Vegas
Wild Card tells the story of Nick Wild (Statham), a good-hearted Las Vegas bodyguard-for-hire with a gambling problem to boot. When Nick’s ex, Holly, is brutally beaten and raped by a mobsters’ son (the oh so sleazy Milo Vintimiglia), Nick is recruited to help his former flame exact her revenge. As is often the case in revenge stories, everything does not go according to plan. Nick quickly finds himself on the run from the mob and their hoard of big, dumb mob-lackies. With everything on the line, he has one play (and several cards up his sleeve) to change his luck and make a clean getaway. Nick is all in…and we couldn’t care less.
There’s a tech-wealthy entrepreneur (Michael Angarano) looking to become Nick’s student in there somewhere. Also a pretty diner waitress (Anne Heche) and a beautiful Blackjack dealer (Hope Davis) are all out to help Nick along his pseudo-redemptive path for various half-eluded to reasons. Little more than stock types and poorly realized dramatizations, these characters are meant to act as a mirror for tough-guy Nick, but they offer only empty contemplation. Reflection, after all, cannot exist in a vacuum.
Ham-handedly directed by action “guru” Simon West, Wild Card is an utterly vapid film with almost no redeeming value. The plot is a joke, the acting is atrocious, and the screenplay is mind-bogglingly incoherent in this unwatchable film. Truth be told, when I sat down to write this review just twenty minutes after watching Wild Card, I had trouble remembering the name myself. There is no fun to be had and very little worth seeing in Wild Card, a film whose only surprise is just how many talented people went into its making.
The Stacked Deck
Let’s be honest. Nobody has ever gone to a Jason Statham movie expecting much more than a fight, an explosion, and lots of scowling. One look at the cast and crew for Wild Card and you can’t help but have an expectation or two. Hope Davis, Anne Heche, Jason Alexander, and the gloriously gifted Stanley Tucci represent a formidable supporting cast, but nothing much comes of their talent. Sofia Vergara rounds things out in an embarrassing cameo playing a character actually named DD…leading me to believe that her “endowment” may be the only reason she was cast. Supporting talent is hard to come by and Simon West seems to take a certain amount of pleasure in wasting, then wasting again the gifts and good humor of these talented actors.
West is not solely to blame. The dynamite supporting cast of Wild Card are, after all, trading scenes with Statham, whose emotions range from smiling to scowling (I will never understand this man’s career). Stanley Tucci looks to be the only actor involved who understands that everything about Wild Card is tragically silly. Tucci goes big as Baby, a mysterious Vegas big-wig, and at least has some fun with his role. All the other players in Wild Card just look bored and confused, not that the screenplay gave them much to go on.
The Cold Deck
That brings us to the primary (and most surprising) offender on Wild Card, Screenwriter William Goldman. Yes, you read that correctly…William Goldman, the two-time Academy Award winning screenwriter of:
- Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid (Oscar Winner) – 1969
- All The Presidents Men (Oscar Winner) – 1976
- A Bridge Too Far – 1977
- The Princess Bride (my all-time favorite fantasy script) – 1987
- Misery – 1990
- Chaplin – 1992
Goldman’s disjointed screenplay for Wild Card attempts to tell an uber-gritty neo-noir tale set to a glitzy Vegas backdrop. The famed writer doesn’t even come close. Wild Card drowns in ambiguity and pointless side stories. Attempts at clever, insightful dialogue turn into wooden emotion in the hands of uninterested actors and their hackneyed Director. Wild Card tries to double-down with a couple of dreadfully executed fight scenes in which goons with guns rush and punch at Statham instead of just shooting him dead. A nice, clean headshot would have been a fine piece of mercy for the viewer, but no dice. Even at a brisk 92 minutes, Wild Card is way too long and begs you to forget it before a 93rd minute can pass.
Oddly, Goldman also has the dubious honor of having penned Wild Card‘s source material, his 1985 novel Heat. Even odder is the fact that Goldman also wrote the script for the 1986 Burt Reynolds film Heat, based on the same book. Adapting one’s own work can be a daunting task. Often, writers are too familiar with their own material to take a step back and view it in a different context, and movies are a very different context. That appears to be what has happened with Wild Card as Goldman plays too deeply in the shadows of his story for there to be any high stakes action, or any stakes at all for that matter. Goldman has now had two tries at adapting Heat and neither film is any good. But at least Burt Reynolds didn’t take himself so seriously. Ugh, what the hell is with Jason Statham’s scowl anyway?
Look, I could keep railing against Wild Card (which may be the worst film I’ve ever seen), but I don’t want to waste your time. Besides, I’m running out of gambling analogies. Clearly, I am not recommending that you spend $0.99 on Wild Card this week. I wouldn’t watch it again myself if it were free. Half-baked and poorly executed, Wild Card is the equivalent of having your hand pinned back by one of cinema’s least interesting stars.
Side Note: Buried under layers of bad dialogue and an offensively loud soundtrack is a lovely score from Academy Award winning composer Dario Marianelli (Atonement, 2007). It’s a long way from his luminous work in Pride and Prejudice (how the hell did he get involved in this disaster), but it is the lone gold nugget in the empty mine of Wild Card.