“Wild Card” is a remake of the 1986 Burt Reynolds film “Heat”. Scribed by one of the most prolific and award winning screenwriters in Hollywood, William Goldman, the first film suffered from a fractious atmosphere on set and a so-so reception from the public and critics alike. Director Dick Richards and Reynolds had a falling out on the movie and Burt broke Dick’s jaw before firing the director.
Jason Statham worked on adapting the film into “Wild Card” over a long period and drafted Brit director Simon West into helming the project. The collaborative effort paid off with an entertaining re-imaging of Burt’s original film.
There are a number of familiar faces in the movie – Anne Heche, Hope Davis, Stanley Tucci, Sofia Vergara and Michael Angarano to name a few. But it is Milo Ventimiglia who Statham’s character goes up against who almost steals the show. While the actor from Derbyshire, England may be the star, there is no denying that Ventimiglia “gives good bad guy.”
On the small screen Milo is cast, more often than not, as the hero. In “The Whispers” he was the pilot who shrugged off the alien influence to help save his son and in “Heroes” he was the guy who wanted to save mankind.
Big screen Ventimiglia makes great villains. In the 2008 film “Pathology” Milo was not the nicest chap in the world and he is a real piece of work in “Wild Card.”
Statham is Nick Wild, living in Las Vegas and hiring out as a bodyguard, shill and good all rounder, the jack of all trades and soldier of fortune is a tough nut who will take a fall for the right sort of money. A friend; Holly (Dominik García-Lorido) is picked up by Danny DeMarco (Ventimiglia) and his two bodyguards. She is sexually abused and beaten severely. She wants Nick to help her get some payback.
Meanwhile Cyrus Kinnick (Michael Angarano) breezes into town and wants Nick to show him around the casinos and keep a protective eye on him. Nick does some sniffing around and learns who Danny is and agrees to help Holly. He also starts to do the Cyrus job but then backs out.
As per usual with any Statham film, the movie tough guy has some great choreographed fight scenes and easily lives up to the audiences expectations in terms of stunt fights and action. But despite the crowd pleasing athletics, there really is nothing new here.
A performance that, apart from the stunts, could have been phoned in detracts from the overall entertainment value of the film . Most of the action takes place around Fremont Street (the old strip) and focusses on The Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino. A number of second unit shots establish that Statham is driving around Vegas, with other newer casino’s visible in the background, as well as the famous Caesar’s Palace.
It is Ventimiglia’s mafia sleaze that makes the film. He is slimy, despicable and not above lying to save himself, but not his bodyguards. All smarmy overconfidence and snotty attitude the actor makes a brilliant villain that the audience feels free to dislike from scene one.
Stanley Tucci plays “Baby” a local “made man” who officiates over Vegas squabbles and makes the most out of a small cameo. Angarano does well with his role of the rich guy looking for some intestinal fortitude and Davis; as the dealer Cassandra, does more with her eyes than most actors can with their entire bodies.
While nothing to write home about, it after all just another remake, “Wild Card,” aka “Joker,” is a firm 3.5 out of 5 stars in the entertainment department. With just enough of Las Vegas to make it sell but perhaps too little of Statham doing his action man routine, the film fails to pull in a higher entertainment factor. Available on Amazon at the moment it will satisfy Statham fans and is well worth the time spent watching it.