is not exactly a critic’s dream come true, but it rises to one of our frequent
challenges. We often lament studios remake classic movies, making them
considerably worse, rather than redoing and hopefully improving less than great
films. That sort of happens here when Jason Statham steps into a role
originated by Burt Reynolds. It’s already sounding better, isn’t it? In fact,
Statham is much more convincing as the lethal bodyguard with a gambling problem
in Simon West’s Wild Card (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
the somewhat notorious 1986 film Heat,
Wild Card was adapted by screenwriter
William Goldman from his own novel. On the screen, it follows much the same
structure, but off-screen, hopefully there will be far less litigation. Nick
Wild has an uneasy truce with the mafia. He stays on good terms with the
mega-connected Baby, but for the most part, he does not bother them and they do
not bother him. Most of his jobs are a little demeaning, like babysitting
nickel-and-dime gambler Cyrus Kinnick, but he keeps hoping to hit it big at the
tables and run off to Corsica (it was Venice before).
equilibrium is disrupted when a visiting gangster brutalizes Holly, a prostitute
Wild was formerly involved with. She wants him to get the creep’s name, so she
can pursue legal action. However, Wild wants no part of anything connected to
the Golden Nugget, which must be thrilled to be so explicitly identified as a
mobster resort. Of course, as a good guy, Wild can’t help himself. Despite his
hesitation, he lays quite a beating on the entitled Danny DeMarco and his
henchmen and facilitates their further humiliation at Holly’s hands. From
there, one thing leads to another.
Wild Card has a handful of
spectacular fights (choreographed by Cory Yuen), sprinkled throughout long
stretches of compulsive gambling and macho brooding. The gimmick for Wild (or
Nick “Mex” Escalante as he was once known) is his facility for using
commonplace items, such as credit cards and poker chips, as deadly weapons.
Needless to say, this works so much better with Statham than Reynolds. Dominik
García-Lorido (Andy Garcia’s daughter in the excellent Lost City and in real life) and Stanley Tucci also represent
considerable upgrades as Holly and Baby, respectively. Indeed, the casting is
nearly perfect this time around. Unfortunately, the Kinnick character still
gums up the works with his unnecessary subplot.
Unlike the previous film’s revolving
door-battery of directors, West keeps Wild
Card moving along at a decent clip, even though it is more about gambling
and gangster power games than action, per se. He also maintains a relatively upbeat
mood, nicely underscored by some classic licensed blues and R&B tunes from
artists like Magic Slim, Albert King, and Charles Brown. It still isn’t perfect
but it is better, which is something. You could even say it’s not bad—but nowhere
near Statham’s best work in The Bank Job and
Redemption. For fans of old school
Vegas, Wild Card opens this Friday (1/30)
in New York.
Labels: Gambling films, Jason Statham, William Goldman