Director: Simon West
Cast: Jason Statham
Watch Wild Card online in the UK: iTunes / TalkTalk TV / Amazon Instant Video / Rakuten TV / Google Play
“I’ve been knocked down, lied to, blown up and shot at…” says Jason Statham near the start of Wild Card, trying to impress a client. “I’m also a very good liar,” he quips. The secret to Jason Statham’s success is that he really has done all of those things: his film back catalogue seems less a string of people he’s pretended to be and more an ongoing documentary capturing the insane escapades that have actually happened to him. That explains everything: why The Stath always seem to play the same character; why they always have silly, fake-sounding names; and why, when he says he’s going to kill you with only his fists, you jolly well believe it.
Wild Card, though, produces The Stath’s most convincing fake identity yet: the improbably named Nick Wild, a bodyguard-for-hire in Las Vegas with a bit of a gambling problem. We first meet him in a bar, as he tries to hit on an attractive woman. It’s an uncomfortable scene, which presents our hero as a sleazebag of the highest order – only for a twist to paint him in a different light altogether. Nick, it turns out, is just as good at playing a part as The Stath is.
That’s the sort of narrative one-two you perhaps expect from William Goldman, the writer of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Adapting his own 1985 novel, Heat, for the screen, he delivers the kind of screenplay that feels like it was written several decades ago: it’s no surprise that it was already turned into a film starring Burt Reynolds.
Why should Jason jump at another version of the good-hearted-loser formula? It doesn’t always seem apparent to us in the audience, thanks to the all-too-familiar gangster stereotypes and old-fashioned, non-gun-toting set pieces. But The Stath is a natural screen lunk: he trades blows with the best of them and does it with the kind of collected cool that is all too rare in a leading man. He’s an action star in the traditional sense. The role of Nick, then, gives him a chance to expand his range; Wild’s down-on-his-luck life lets Jason explore his dramatic side more than he would normally be allowed to in, say, The Transporter.
He turns out to be as charismatic when being serious as he is when stabbing guys in the hand – and Simon West, who brought humour to The Expendables 2 and gung-ho spectacle to Con Air, shoots the set pieces with the kind of slick, slow-mo style you’d expect.
Is there much depth beyond the glossy card tables and casino bars? No. Stanley Tucci steals the whole show in a brief cameo, while Anne Heche and Hope Davis do their best in essentially interchangeable roles – one is almost solely tasked with standing there and watching him gamble for 10 minutes. But there is a welcome strain of darkness to the conventional ass-kicking. One bloody sequence unfolds to the sweet sound of Christmas music; it’s in these brief moments that Wild Card finds the magic in its rigged deck. The Stath, after all, knows how to deal an entertaining hand.