In an example of pun-gone-mad literal titling that I can only applaud, Jason Statham’s latest sees him play maverick Vegas bodyguard Nick WILD – a man whose only vice is playing CARDS. Actually, scratch that, he has two vices: cards and freshly squeezed grapefruit juice. Maybe it’s a subtle nod to the film’s pulp novel origins. Or maybe I’m overthinking it.
For a mid to low budget actioner this boasts a quite stellar supporting cast and crew. Directed by Simon ‘simply the’ West (Con Air, Expendables 2 and a load of other Statham joints) and adapted from his own novel by two time Oscar winner William Goldman, it also features Sofia Vergara, Stanley Tucci, and Jason ‘George Costanza’ Alexander in inexplicably and frustratingly small cameo roles. Serenity now!!
In contrast to the unhinged majesty of films like Crank 2: High Voltage, this is one of Stathe’s more considered character pieces – one that allows him to run the full gamut of emotions from broodingly enigmatic to enigmatically brooding. Wild is a loner (of course), a man who never knows when to stick or twist. Trapped in a toxic co-dependant relationship with a city he loathes and the lowlifes that inhabit it, every time he thinks he’s out, they pull him back in (somebody should use that).
Nick gets a call from that most reliable Statham movie staple – the childhood sweetheart who’s about 15 years younger than him (#YEWTREE) – asking him to help her gain revenge on a brutal rapist. Played by Heroes ‘star’ Milo Ventimiglia, Dave DeMarco is a despicable fuck with an Ian Watkins beard and a sideline in sadism: he forces his victims to watch the final two seasons of Heroes – ‘Oh god, not the series with a load of carnies and T-Bag from Prison Break. YOU MONSTER!’
After no doubt causing a Twitterstorm by victim blaming her and saying she shouldn’t have gone to the Golden Nugget in the first place, Nick reluctantly agrees to help. Using all his detective nous – he asks a maid if she knows who it is, she says yes – Nick tracks DeMarco down to his hotel suite and busts heads with no more than his fists and a brutally deployed debit card (so much for contactless payment). Then they extort 50 grand, humiliate him by threatening to chop his lad off, and leave room service to clear up the mess. These people have no respect for low paid immigrant workers.
But Nick isn’t satisfied with his lot because he needs enough money for that sailing retreat in Corsica he regularly fantasises about (‘waterway to have a good time’) and so gambles the lot on the craps tables. Yep, Simon West is yet another director who has an inexplicable boner for neverending casino scenes. I dunno, maybe it’s because I have no vices outside brogues and drone metal LPs, or maybe I’ve heard Victoria Coren turding on about poker once too often, but I don’t get it – there’s no new or exciting way to show cards being repeatedly flipped over, the house always wins, and that’s another 20 minutes of my life wasted. Even the excellent Casino Royale verged on being a World Pokerstars tournament where an action film occasionally broke out. Anyway. I’ve digressed. This isn’t about how much I hate Card Bores.
The film veers off and introduces but never fully commits to various subplots, like a young Zuckerberg avatar hiring Wild to teach him how to grab life by the balls, but it never develops into the buddy comedy you think it might. The dramatic centre is very much Stathe versus his own internal demons, though there is an amusing verbal face-off between Wild, DeMarco and the great Stanley Tucci playing a mob boss who calls everyone by their full name (Nicholas) in a way that only camply threatening film villains do.
Overall there’s actually surprisingly little ass kicking, which seems an odd choice. Hiring Statham and not having him do much fighting is about as pointless as buying a bike and then walking it along the pavement (seriously. Why do people do that?) But when the fights do come they’re satisfyingly bone-crunching and refreshingly creative – particularly in the climactic battle where Wild takes on DeMarco and his hired goons with nothing more than a teaspoon and a really small fish knife – ‘can somebody pleeeease, remove theeese cutleriees, from my kneees?’ pleads DeMarco in the final scene.
It’s alright I suppose. Statham does what Statham does, he does it better than most, and if you like him driving along the strip in a muscle car to a pumping classic rock soundtrack then you’ll like this. But compared to a lot of his output it’s weirdly underpowered, muted, and just not as much fun as you’d hope.