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Review: 'Wild Card' could have been the ideal Jason Statham movie

A character study with a little bit of action, this Burt Reynolds remake almost comes together, but falls short.

‘Wild Card’
Director:
Simon West
Stars: Jason Statham, Michael Angarano
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

At risk of overselling his bona fides, Jason Statham is a real actor; at the very least he can do far more than simply scowl and hurt people. His roles rarely call on him to speak, which is a shame, as he’s a great, fun-filled jokester with an infectious, mischievous laugh. That “Wild Card” employs these traits at all is cause for celebration — and it’s almost enough to excuse its many foundational issues. Even moreso than the mostly serious “Redemption,” it’s a character study but one still forced to offer the occasional ass-kicking. The two sides of Statham can hypothetically go together, and simply for trying “Wild Card” deserves a “B” for effort — or maybe a slightly lower grade.

Perhaps surprisingly, “Wild Card” is another case of Statham remaking another genre god’s old vehicle. Previously he did up the Charles Bronson classic “The Mechanic.” Here he takes on a less-remembered Burt Reynolds number, 1987’s “Heat,” which is not to be confused with the 1995 Michael Mann epic, even though it has nearly as many characters. Statham is Nick Wild, a kind of an all-around badass-for-hire, who loans his vast set of special skills out for odd jobs. He has a drinking and a gambling problem, neither helped by being currently based in Vegas. The story finds him becoming bodyguard to a rich kid (Michael Angarano) while also helping out a friend (Dominik Garcia-Lorido), who was beaten by a weak but powerful crime kid (Milo Ventimiglia).

These two plots never quite join up, either narratively or even in some other meaningful way. And neither is taken too seriously — a move that seems refreshing but means the film adds up to very little. Ventimiglia’s mafia brat is all comic bluster, just waiting to be brutally dispatched by our bulletheaded star. (Where Statham was reluctant to touch villain James Franco in “Homefront,” here he’s happy, happily, to be oblige.) Meanwhile nothing much at all happens with the bodyguard stint; the most momentous act happens with a half hour to go. Even for a shaggy dog tale, this is too shaggy, and it can only charm its way out of some of its problems.

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But it can be charming. “Heat” wasn’t just another Burt Reynolds programmer; it was based on a book by Hollywood screenwriting legend (and “The Princess Bride” author) William Goldman. Goldman wrote the screenplay for both that and “Wild Card,” and it’s filled with long one-on-one conversations that take their time and delight in tiny character traits. There’s enjoyable one-off bits for a host of game character actors, from Anne Heche to Stanley Tucci to Max Casella to Jason Alexander. And Statham gets to show off his entire range. He still has to throw down, but the throwdowns, of which there are only three, are actually quite fun — closer to the silly antics of “Transporter 2” and the brilliant “Crank” films than, say, the largely joyless “Transporter 3.”

And yet it still never coheres. Director Simon West handles the action well, but he’s a bit at sea with long character bits. And good as it is to see him smile and joke around, Statham never quite grasps his character. In fact, “Wild Card” feels less like a movie than an episode in a series that doesn’t, at least not yet, exist. Nick Wild genuinely feels like a character who lives outside the narrow confines of this one story, with a rich past and equally rich future, one that would afford Statham opportunities to flesh him out and make him his own. In fact, he could become, hypothetically, the true signature Statham character: a fully realized being who still has no problem taking out a room full of thugs, just because he can.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
 
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