No winning hand for this Vegas thug
WILD CARD (M18)
Drama/92 minutes/Opens tomorrow
Nick Wild (Jason Statham), a Las Vegas security consultant (read: freelance bodyguard), is a thug. But even thugs have dreams, and his is to escape Sin City and retire on a yacht in Corsica. To do that, he reckons he would need 500 grand, and his two latest assignments might bring him one step closer.
The first involves escorting young tech billionaire Cyrus Kinnick (Michael Angarano) around town to gamble at small-bet tables.
The second is a personal favour to his dear friend, a call girl named Holly (Dominik Garcia-Lorido), who has been brutally raped and left for dead by underworld scion Danny DeMarco (Milo Ventimiglia). She needs Wild's help to exact her own brand of revenge.
But DeMarco is holed up with his henchmen in the Golden Nugget, a seedy hotel owned by mafioso Baby (Stanley Tucci).
Seems like Wild's cards are stacked against him.
WILD Card opens with Nick Wild (Jason Statham) getting thrashed by a chump half his size. But it is later revealed that this bruising encounter is a ruse.
The movie, too, is not what it seems from the trailer and poster - which sell it as an action thriller - and the director's credentials.
Simon West - who helmed The Expendables 2 and the remake of The Mechanic, both starring Statham - directs the second film adaptation of William Goldman's novel Heat as a character drama. Goldman wrote the screenplay for the first movie, starring Burt Reynolds in Statham's role, and that of this remake.
Fans expecting Statham in full ass-kicking mode will be disappointed to learn that there are no fancy car chases, explosions or shootouts.
For most of the story, he leisurely cruises down the Strip in his Ford Torino and stares wistfully into his vodka in dilapidated bars.
Statham's scrapper gets a grand total of three fight scenes, not counting the opening beatdown, each lasting no longer than a few minutes. But they are exquisitely choreographed by action director Cory Yuen, who worked with the Brit on the Transporter films.
While Wild eschews guns, he is capable of using common objects - like a credit card, ash tray and butter knife - to defend himself.
Statham gets to show off his acting chops during the film's many dialogues, in which Wild bemoans his lot in life and compares Vegas to a "creeping virus". His anti-hero is not easy to sympathise with, a compulsive gambler who builds his own prison with each game, and while the scowling actor's effort is admirable, his strong suit is delivering punches, not lines.
As for the villains, gangster Danny DeMarco (Milo Ventimiglia) is spoken of as someone to fear, but he and his hordes of disposable goons - the kind who attack the hero one at a time - never put up much of a fight against Wild. In one punishing scene, DeMarco's rape victim, Holly (Dominik Garcia-Lorido), gives him a taste of his own medicine by subjecting his "envy of all mankind" to a pair of garden shears.
The big kahuna here is Baby (Stanley Tucci), who has an amicable relationship with Wild. In one of the movie's highlights, the suave kingpin presides over a kangaroo court in which Wild is put on trial for murder. The way Baby plays both judge and inquisitor is worth the price of admission.
Wild's blue-collar pals - Hope Davis' beguiling blackjack dealer, Anne Heche's kind diner waitress and Davenia McFadden's sassy chambermaid - make memorable, if brief, appearances.
To the film's detriment, the plot focuses more on Garcia-Lorido's guilt-tripping former flame, who disappears halfway through the film, and Michael Angarano's yuppie sycophant, whose denouement is unsatisfying.
The languid pace and intriguing supporting characters had me thinking that this would make a great TV show along the lines of Burn Notice: a combat-trained good Samaritan trapped in a city and searching for absolution.
Alas, when the chips are down, there's no ace up this thug's - or movie's - sleeve.