Culver City Observer -



January 29, 2015

Anyone who knows me or who has read any of my reviews or interviews over the past few decades knows of my admiration and affection for action films, stunt work, Jason Statham and director Simon West. Put all of those ingredients together, and toss in a screenplay by William Goldman, and I'm in. Needless to say, you can imagine my excitement for WILD CARD as it not only blends all of these elements in this slick, as-to-be-expected reflective and brooding crime drama, but minimizes the action allows us to focus on character and the introspective nature of Statham's Nick Wild.

Adapted by Goldman from his novel of the same name, WILD CARD is not the typical Jason Statham-Simon West action movie (now their fourth teaming). While there are still more than sufficient displays of Statham's patented martial arts stylings to satisfy the most die-hard Statham fan, not to mention some slick maneuvers with credit cards and teaspoons, West, Goldman and Statham allow us to sit back and enjoy the psychological gamesmanship of Nick Wild and a wacky cast of characters who represent every patented Las Vegas element imagined centered around a Mafioso-hinged plotline. In short, I'm wild about WILD CARD.

Nick Wild, a for-hire security/bodyguard, dreams of hitting a $500K score at the blackjack tables so he can live out his life in peace on a boat in the calm waters off Corsica. But that's what makes Vegas, Vegas. It's all about dreams, dreams that one keeps chasing, and Nick has been chasing his for years. Always there for a friend in need, whether they can pay for his services or not, you get the sense that Nick will never hit paydirt and Corsica will always be just a dream.

When Nick gets a call for help from old girlfriend Holly who has been viciously beaten and dumped at an emergency room door, despite thinking better of it, Nick hunts down the mobster who is sequestered away at the Golden Nugget. Danny DeMarco is a vicious, brutal thug who is more into looking the mobsters of Hollywood with the gold and the girls and the guns than playing smart like the "boss" he thinks he is. Makes him and his boys an easy target for Nick who just wants to "warn" DeMarco, but as we quickly see, a vengeful Holly has a more personal payback in mind.

Enter the young Cyrus Kinnick. A wimpy looking whiz kid from Boston seemingly on his own for the first time in his life, Cyrus believes he requires Nick's services as a bodyguard during his brief stay in Vegas. But it quickly becomes evident that not only is Cyrus not what he seems, but who's doing the protecting?

As Nick faces his own vodka demons and penchant for pushing his luck, we make the rounds with him and meet a delicious array of characters, from the kindest - a dealer named Cassandra, to an hilarious set up involving a nebbish named Osgood and a doll named DD, to Nugget owner "Baby", local attorney Pinky and, of course, Roxy the waitress with her ear to the ground and pulse on the city.

As Nick Wild, Jason Statham is perfection. Quiet, brooding, introspective but with a wild streak, yet, no one can build tension with silence, stillness and just a stare like Statham. And he does just that in WILD CARD making one extended gambling scene more riveting than all the action of three key scenes put together.

An interesting performance comes courtesy of Michael Angarano as Cyrus. Over the years we seen Angarano be timid, or over confident, but as Cyrus he delivers a "Nervous Nelly" complete with lovely little nuances with his posture, his walk, his hands. But then in a climactic scene in Roxy's diner, turns the tables with a surprising uber-confidence that zings. But it's the engaging play and chemistry between Angarano and Statham that has you doubling down with interest.

Nice cameo turns by Jason Alexander and Anne Heche as Pinky and Roxy, respectively. As Osgood, Max Casella is scene-stealing scream, particularly when it comes to his interplay with Sofia Vergara's DD and plot twist with Statham that will have you in stitches. And I've gotta hand it to Goldman and West adding some great tongue-in-cheek double entendres to not only Statham's dialogue but a Pepsi placement nod with its spokesperson Vergara. Hope Davis adds some warmth and grounding as Cassie, not to mention serve as a conscience for Nick at times. Some real growth in her talents as an actress can be seen with Dominik Garcia-Lorido and her performance as Holly. Pushing the envelope and adding some texture to her emotional skill set is a nice touch for the character and film as a whole.

But nothing is cooler - or funnier - than the scene of the year involving Stanley Tucci, Statham and Milo Ventimiglia as Ventimiglia's DeMarco tries to wiggle his way out of a situation with Tucci's casino owning Baby. It's a deadpan throw down between Statham and Tucci that is uproarious! Hilarious! Everything about the scene is perfection as Nick and Baby insist DeMarco drop his pants, comment on his "manhood" (or lack thereof) and make the most of an earlier event involving that "manhood" and a pair of sharp gardening Clippers.

West and Statham have taken a different tact with WILD CARD that while having less action than usual for Jason, is lensed with action edited by Thomas Nordberg and Padraic McKinley in a frame by frame manner to make it more rapid fire, more surreal, more heightened and more intense! Cinematographer Shelly Johnson nails it with a mix of slo-mo, extreme close-ups and, something that is becoming more frequent in hand-to-hand action sequences, fast-mo. WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW! Dice and slice comes out of nowhere on multiple occasions and each time is shockingly cool. Editing itself is paced extremely well, giving us time to breathe in between the frenetic battles. And the $500,000 gambling tense, so taut, my palms were sweating. We are immersed in every moment of this film.

Keeping us on our toes, Goldman structures the story so that we're well into the second act, salivating in anticipation, before Simon West and company kick into high gear with the first major action sequence. One of Statham's stalwarts, stunt/fight choreographer Corey Yuen puts together some dynamic scenes which are showcased and enhanced by Shelly Johnson's lens. Watching Johnson's work over the years starting with his first film, "Maid to Order" and moving into films like "The Last Castle" creating an intimate canvas employing both crane work and claustrophobic, and into high octane action with "Captain America" and "Expendables 2", Johnson delivers some interesting camera angles, using not only a lot of dutching but a lot of mid-shots interspersed with dutched close-ups that fuel the Vegas energy and vibe. Color saturation just lends to the heightened surrealism that is Vegas.

While set in present day, scribe William Goldman peppers WILD CARD with the requisite stereotypical Vegas-mob elements we have so loved for decades while tailoring specifics to Statham's brand of performance. It's a lovely meld of old and new. The poignancy and raw visceral nature of the story and the characters, particularly that of Nick Wild, can resonate with each off us with just the slightest look at our own lives. Characters are fun, and thanks to some great story structure and dialogue in tandem with West's direction, we only need one scene with some of these characters to know who they are and why they are in Nick's life. I would have liked to see the character of Cyrus fleshed out a bit more as he proves quite interesting in the hands of Angarano, yet given the "ships that pass in the night" idea of Vegas, the minimal depth works. Multi-textural and layered and as with all of Goldman's works, deeper and more engaging than what's as on the surface.

As for the score - luscious. Dario Marianelli does it again. Interesting choice for this film. Although WILD CARD is an action film and Marianelli isn't known for scoring action films, it's the emotion of the human condition and characters that he captures so wonderfully, enhancing the depth of the story while complementing the action elements.

WILD CARD is a wild ride I want to ride again!

Director: Simon West

Written by William Goldman based on Goldman's novel "Heat"

Cast: Jason Statham, Michael Angarano, Stanley Tucci, Milo Ventimiglia, Anne Heche, Hope Davis, Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Max Casella, Jason Alexander, Sofia Vergara


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