Nick Wild (Jason Statham) is a Las Vegas bodyguard with lethal professional skills and a personal gambling problem. When a friend is beaten by a sadistic thug, Nick strikes back, only to find out the thug is the son of a powerful mob boss. Suddenly Nick is plunged into the criminal underworld, chased by enforcers and wanted by the mob. Having raised the stakes, Nick has one last play to change his fortunes...and this time, it's all or nothing. From two-time Academy® Award-winning writer William Goldman (Best Original Screenplay, 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,' 1969; Best Adapted Screenplay, 'All the President's Men,' 1976).
"Luck will find you, Nick."
How to begin this review? I'm going to lay down a scenario that I believe likely took place. Picture a team of studio executives gathered for a meeting to plan the next big Jason Statham action flick. With so many movies made starring the actor every year, these guys are confused about where and how they can showcase Statham's penchant for ass-kickery. "We've seen him do so much, what haven't we seen him in?" Then picture someone reaching into their desk and pulling out a dust-covered, tattered, near shredded screenplay. They blow the dust off and written on the title page is "Heat Witten By William Goldman Based On His Novel." Instantly the executives' brains sync. "We'll put Jason Statham in a remake of a mediocre 1980s Burt Reynolds movie!" And from this meeting, we now have 'Wild Card,' a bizarre yet entertaining action thriller from genre director Simon West.
Nick Wild, Jason Statham, is a down-on-his-luck bodyguard for hire with a more than a bit of a gambling and drinking problem. All Nick wants in life is $500,000 so he can escape Las Vegas and set himself up for just five years of peaceful living in Corsica on a boat. The problem isn't that Nick is a bad guy or unlucky - just the opposite in fact. He's selfless, he gives large tips, he helps his friends in need, and if someone is paying for his services he'll often cut the fee in half. Then there's his gambling, more often than not, Nick starts the night up 200 or even 500,000 dollars - but he can't seem to recognize when enough is enough and his luck has run out.
To top off Nick's troubles is his big heart. He's a man who cares about his friends and will do anything for them, which a long time friend of his Holly, Dominik Garcia-Lorido, fully exploits. Holly is savagely beaten, assaulted, and dumped at the emergency room after being invited to the hotel room belonging to Danny DeMarco, Milo Ventimiglia. Danny DeMarco is the son of a prominent mobster who acts like the world is his oyster doing anything he pleases with impunity. In order to exact her revenge, Holly calls on Nick knowing full well that after seeing her black and purple face, he'd be unable to refuse her request.
When faced with DeMarco and his two tough body guards, Nick does his best to appeal to their better nature. When DeMarco refuses, Nick is left no other choice but to dip back into his own bag of tricks in order to subdue the men, and allow Holly to pursue her own form of proportional vengeance. Leaving DeMarco alive but thoroughly humiliated, Holly leaves town and Nick stays behind knowing that the consequences of their actions could mean his death. Since Nick has nothing going for him, he's willing to face the danger head on.
'Wild Card' is a movie that tries to be a lot of things. It's one part comedy, one part thriller, one part action movie, with a half part of crime saga and a half part mobster movie tossed in for flavor. I've never read the original William Goldman novel, so I can't speak to this movie as an adaptation, but in terms of remakes, it works alright but the elements don't quite gel as they should. The performances all around are pretty great, including Statham who actually brings a lot of heart to his tough-guy persona. Garcia-Lorado's Holly is equal parts innocence and lethality who does a fantastic job twisting and turning Nick's weaknesses against him. Along for the ride as a young, hapless would-be big shot gambler is Michael Angarano as Cyrus who plays his part nicely as perhaps the one genuine friend Nick has. Milo Ventimiglia's evil Danny DeMarco is certainly threatening, but I always have a hard time taking him seriously in these kinds of roles. Peppered throughout the movie are appearances from Hope Davis, Anne Heche, Jason Alexander, Max Casella, Sofia Vergara, and the always welcome Stanley Tucci as Baby, the man who truly runs Vegas.
Perhaps the biggest problem with 'Wild Card' is the uneven tone of the movie. Throughout the vast majority of the runtime, 'Wild Card' feels like a welcome throwback to late 70s and early 80s thrillers. It maintains a slow but deliberate pace that offers numerous colorful characters a few minutes of screen time to help move the plot forward and are then never seen again. As a sort of pseudo-noir, this approach works. It's nice to see a movie take its time and let the plot unfold. Where things go awry is when the action scenes kick in. Director Simon West certainly knows how to execute thrilling action sequences, that's without debate, however in this case they feel horribly out of place. This is one of those movies that goes from 15mph to mach 5 within a single scene.
Now to be fair, I love stylized action scenes, and the ones in 'Wild Card' are cool, intense and intricately executed. The only problem is they do not fit the tone of the rest of the movie and actually work against the movie. Then there's the climactic final battle. It's a hell of an awesome sequence to be sure, but again it feels out of place and actually feels like the setup for the third act rather than the movie's ultimate climax. That brings me to another point about the movie - pacing. Things happen throughout the movie that feel like they belong in a different part of the story. The middle bits where Nick goes on a gambling tear actually feels more like the beginning of the movie and not like an appropriate followup to a scene where a man was nearly castrated.
All this isn't to say 'Wild Card' isn't entertaining, because it is. At times it's very entertaining with a lot of rich, fun characters to follow. It just isn't a consistent enough movie to be thoroughly fulfilling. I thought it was odd that a movie with a reportedly $30,000,000 budget would get dumped on DVD/Blu-ray without a wide theatrical release, and as to the reason behind that choice, I don't really have an answer. While I wasn't necessarily bowled over by 'Wild Card,' it is certainly a better movie than its Burt Reynolds starring counterpart 'Heat.' This is an entertaining movie without a doubt. It may not be the greatest action/thriller ever, but it is a fun ride and if you're a Statham fan it's worth picking up.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Wild Card' arrives on Blu-ray from Lionsgate pressed on a BD25 disc. Housed in a standard Blu-ray case with matching dust cover, the disc plays through a series of trailers for upcoming releases before reaching the main menu. Included with this release is a Digital HD Ultraviolet code.
'Wild Card' makes for an iffy transfer on Blu-ray - depending on how you look at it. If you love video, you're golden, if you love the look of film - hold on tight. Other than the opening credits, the entire movie was shot digitally with the intent to mimic the softer look and feel of a 1970s film. The results are bit 50/50. On one hand it does have that soft 70s gauzing look to it and still retains some sharp detail levels, but on the other hand, 'Wild Card' can have that odd waxy video smooth look to it. As I watched some scenes I couldn't get the memory of the 'Superman Returns' Blu-ray out of my head. At times detail is spot on and beautiful, offering a crystal clear image that lets you soak in the textures of clothing, sets, hair styles and the film's convoy of beautiful muscle cars. Then things can look entirely too soft losing all fine detail leaving faces to look like wax dummies right out of Professor Jarrod's House of Horrors. Video noise isn't too intrusive, I only spotted an instant of it here and there. Black levels are overall pretty good if not too deep since this is already a darker looking movie. Action sequences can offer a great sense of depth, but most of the movie feels rather flat at times. It's not a hideous transfer by any stretch, but I can't shake the idea that if it'd been given a full BD50 disc to occupy and boost the bitrate a bit, 'Wild Card' would probably look a lot better than it currently does.
Sporting an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, 'Wild Card' wins big. The surround channels get a nice work out here, even during the quieter scenes, giving the movie a great sense of atmosphere. When the action scenes kick in, sound effects travel throughout the channels leading to some fantastic imaging - especially when Nick is tuning up DeMarco's thugs in the hotel room. Levels are just fine as sound for the most part sticks to the midranges. Things really only get loud during the sudden action scenes, but the sudden level changes thankfully don't kick things out of balance. You never have to struggle to hear an actor nor do you have to lower your volume to keep the sound comfortable. A solid audio track all around that lends itself well to the rest of the movie.
Audio Commentary: Director Simon West rides this commentary track solo and does a fine job keeping the track going along discussing how scenes were extended, shortened or changed from the original William Goldman screenplay.
Original Sin - Las Vegas and the Characters of Wild Card: (HD 16:26) This is a fun bit of repurposed EPK material that offers interviews from a number of the principal players involved and why they were interested in the movie.
Script Vignette: (HD 5:17) This is a short bit of promotional material, that feels like it was cut from the previous featurette. The cast and crew go on about their love for William Goldman, however Goldman himself is nowhere to be seen here.
Adaptations of novels and remakes of those adaptations are nothing new, after all 'Little Women' was made into four films before 1950. It helps when a remake of a movie that was made nearly thirty years ago offers something fresh and new with the material. 'Wild Card' certainly works on its own and from my faded memories of Burt Reynolds' 'Heat,' it is a better movie over all. It's a flawed movie, but it is still pretty entertaining. While I found the image quality to be mediocre, the DTS-HD MA track is strong and offers a lot of life for this movie. If you're in need of a fun bit of relatively brainless entertainment, 'Wild Card' is worth a look and if you're a Statham fan, the man is in excellent form here.