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With: Jason Statham, Michael Angarano, Dominik García-Lorido, Hope Davis, Milo Ventimiglia, Danny DeMarco, Max Casella, Stanley Tucci, Jason Alexander, Sofía Vergara, Anne Heche, François Vincentelli, Chris Browning, Matthew Willig
Written by: William Goldman, based on his novel 'Heat'
Directed by: Simon West
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, language and some sexuality/nudity
Running Time: 92
Date: 01/30/2015
IMDB

Wild Card (2015)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Gamble Scramble

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

So you might assume that a movie directed by Simon West and starring Jason Statham would offer wall-to-wall action. You might also assume that a movie written by the legendary William Goldman would be pretty crafty. In regards to the movie Wild Card, both these assumptions are wrong, but fortunately, what remains is still worth a look.

Wild Card is based on Goldman's novel 1985 novel, released in the UK as Edged Weapons and in the U.S. as Heat. (It was adapted into a 1986 Burt Reynolds film.) The main character, Nick Wild, is a kind of jack-of-all-trades working in Vegas; in the prologue, we see him hiring himself out as a bully so that a meek client (Max Casella) can beat him up to impress his sexy girlfriend (Sofía Vergara). Then, a young internet billionaire (Michael Angarano) hires him to "show him around" and keep an eye on him while he gambles. Throughout the movie, it is quietly established that Nick has done a lot of favors for a lot of people, that he's known and appreciated around town.

The big trouble comes when he gets a call from the pretty Holly (Dominik Garcia-Lorido), a prostitute who was badly beaten in a hotel the night before. She wants to know who the anonymous men were. Nick does some searching and discovers that they are the most dangerous kind of gangsters, led by the nasty Danny DeMarco (Milo Ventimiglia), and that any kind of retribution will cause endless trouble. That can't stop a guy like Nick, though. Enter, trouble.

The centerpiece comes when Nick tries to win enough money to leave town and retire, and his gambling addiction is painfully shown; it's a surprising character moment for a movie like this, and probably a turning point where viewers will either check out or tune in further. Director West is surprisingly game for a story like this, refraining from throwing in gratuitous action scenes. There are some spectacular fights -- choreographed by Corey Yuen -- but West's skill at filming them clearly is still a bit shaky.

Aside from that, the Goldman screenplay attracted some amazing actors to small roles -- Hope Davis, Stanley Tucci, Jason Alexander, Anne Heche, etc. -- each of whom seems to have his or her own life force beyond the movie. They all feel like Vegas denizens who exist when not on camera. Statham is right in the middle, using his charisma to explore the richer side of Nick, while using his muscles to tear into the action scenes, and somehow finding a nice balance. Just keep in mind that it's probably not what you're expecting.

Lionsgate released an excellent Blu-ray that includes a Simon West commentary track, a short featurette about how much the cast loved the William Goldman script (though no appearance by Goldman himself), and a featurette about the characters.

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