I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Wild Card

tn_wildcard“I can take care of things. That’s all you need to know.”

In WILD CARD, Jason Statham plays Nick Wild (seriously), a legendary special ops badass who now works as an all purpose “security consultant” for hire. That’s not going well for him, though. He shares his office with a lawyer (Jason Alexander from THE BURNING) on the strip mall outskirts of Vegas, most of his friends seem to be prostitutes, hotel maids, gangsters or casino employees, and he gets such glamourous gigs as getting fake beat up by Vinnie from Doogie Howser to impress a Sofia Vergara. It’s hard to bask in your own greatness when you’re such a fucking loser. So in that sense this is less like THE TRANSPORTER and more like REDEMPTION (where he starts out as a homeless crackhead).

He gets a couple “Just how badass is he?” speeches, but one of them is by himself, and ends with “And I lie alot.” As cool as this guy is – his name is Nick Wild, for God’s sake! – everybody knows he’s a fuckup, and this is underlined by casual comments about the mediocre value of his life. When a friend wants him to get involved in something dangerous and he asks “What if they kill me?” she says “I’ll be miserable for days.” Not years, not months, days. Later a gangster wants to hear his side of the story before killing him just because if he was innocent of what he was accused of “I would feel dreadful.”

If some of this sounds familiar that’s because it’s a remake of HEAT. Not the one by Michael Mann, the 1986 one with Burt Reynolds and based on the book by William Goldman. It counts as a remake though because they re-used Goldman’s old script with just a few tweaks, like Van Sant did with PSYCHO. (In fact, Anne Heche is even in this. But not Vince Vaughn) They changed his name from Nick Escalante and added references to his Britishness. He says “mum” in one part. And I noticed big changes in the action parts (I missed a trick Burt did to light a guy on fire, and a scene where he torments a guy in the dark). But mostly, from what I could remember, it’s scene-for-scene the same.

Therefore it’s one of the more dramatic, character-based Statham vehicles. There are a few big fights, well staged with plenty of slo-mo and good use of improvised weapons found in a bar or diner (including a spoon). But mostly it’s about his life going to shit and him worrying that he’s missed his shot. He could be in the followup to the Eminem song: he had his one opportunity but he didn’t lose himself in the moment. And that was a long fucking time ago.

Nick’s on two cases, basically. One is to accompany a nerdy software billionaire (Michael Angarano from HAYWIRE and EMPIRE STATE) to the casino, supposedly as a bodyguard, but actually to give him some kind of manliness lessons. In the original it was Peter MacNicol and I think it was specifically to teach him how to fight.

mp_wildcardThe more troubling case is a favor for an ex named Holly (Dominik Garcia-Lorida). She was sadistically raped and beaten by some guys in an expensive hotel and she says she wants to sue them. Obviously she should call the police, not him, so he refuses to get involved. But as soon as he drives away he realizes he can’t stop himself from going to the hotel and looking into it anyway. Turns out the perpetrators were Danny DeMarco (Milo Ventimiglia), the sicko son of a mobster, and his two bodyguards. So it’s like a tougher and more perverted version of Ioseph and his buddies in JOHN WICK. With their connections it could be life-ending for Nick to mess with them. So he puts on a Santa hat and goes to their hotel room to introduce himself.

It’s not an action movie structure. It’s very episodic, which I like. I was happy to see they kept the long section in the middle where Nick takes his money stolen from DeMarco on a crazy gambling binge. Hope Davis is well cast as the sympathetic dealer who knows him by name. Long time customer, I guess. It’s a great scene and an interesting one to have in a Statham vehicle, but it can’t quite measure up to the tour-de-force in the original. As good as Davis is, Diana Scarwid in HEAT was even better. She didn’t just look at him with pity. She straight up burst into tears. In fact, she looked like she was gonna cry before he even (SPOILER) lost, just from the idea that he was stupid enough to risk it. His failure breaks her heart and her professionalism. To me that was probly the greatest moment in the movie.

But maybe the more important thing is that Reynolds was just more believable as the self destructive addict in this scene. It’s really interesting to compare these two movies because the lead actors are good for totally different reasons. Statham is more believable as a highly capable ex-special ops guy who’s legendary for using mundane objects as deadly weapons and knows how to martial-arts the shit out of a bunch of burly leather-jacket-wearing mafia thugs who attack him simultaneously. But Reynolds is better for the melancholy, the patheticness, the sense of have skipped over his prime, of being a compulsive gambler who even if he ever gets a good thing going will instinctively blow it.

Maybe it’s not even the performances, maybe it’s just how they naturally look and carry themselves. Statham probly does more acting to show on his face what he’s going through, but he’s a guy who can’t help but be awesome. A guy who never hides his receding hairline, because he knows his awesomeness supercedes it. Reynolds doesn’t show his vulnerability, but you sense it’s there beneath the bluster. It’s implied by the gloomy saxophone playing while he smiles and says it’s okay.

It’s fun to see Statham play this type of character, and he acquits himself admirably as an actor, but I think he doesn’t quite match Burt. His very Stathamness can’t help but overshadow the more prominent dramatic side of the movie. It still feels like a Statham vehicle despite the low amount of punching and kicking.

Those fights probly won’t be enough to satisfy people who only want to see a generic action movie, but they’re clearly better than in many of Statham’s movies and all of director Simon West’s. As a buddy pointed out, that might mean they were done by Corey Yuen (who, along with Roger Yuan [BLACK DYNAMITE] is credited as action director).

I have to admit that even though I’d seen the original I was a little surprised when I realized it was ending. I mean it makes sense, he solved his problem and everything. You just expect a modern movie to have a bigger blowout at the end than just a fight behind a diner. But I don’t mind. It’s kinda old fashioned. Sometimes it’s just about getting out of town without getting killed, it’s not about defusing a bomb that’s gonna blow up the Statue of Liberty so it falls on the vice president and causes a nuclear war if you don’t give me a billion dollars.

These days I pay to see any Statham, Stallone or Schwarzenegger vehicle on principle. I go see them all in the theater and not only do they have a good track record the last couple years, but I feel like I’m doing my part to keep these guys on the big screen and maintain our way of life as action fans. I heard WILD CARD had a limited theatrical release, but if so it hasn’t made it to Seattle, so I had to go the VOD route. I hope that’s not an omen about the future of Statham’s career, but if he’s able to do that and make movies this good then I guess I can’t complain.

It’s also important to give props to West, a director I once called “the BASKET CASE lump twin of Michael Bay” and considered to be one of the worst in the business. I was too hard on him. If I hadn’t boycotted him I would’ve known TOMB RAIDER was actually pretty fun, and I know many people still love CON AIR. Some day I’ll watch it again and find out if it has become watchable by modern standards. At the time I had no experience trying to get through action movies where the editing and camera placement seemed deliberately designed to not get across any visual information or storytelling. Now it’s a rare treat for an action movie not to be made that way.

And this is one of those treats. With THE MECHANIC and maybe EXPENDABLES 2, West as grown into a watchable if undistinguished journeyman. And now for WILD CARD he brought his A-game. This is actually pretty artfully directed, with not only clear action scenes but also a nice patient pace, and pretty good use of LIMEY style editing (little glimpses of the past and future to show what the characters are thinking, the end of one scene intercut with the beginning of the next, but not in a confusing way).

I thought this was showing some parts of Las Vegas we don’t usually see in movies, but then I noticed a New Orleans film logo on the credits, so maybe that’s why! Still, I like the sun-drenched look to it, which contrasts with various references to it being December (occasional Christmas decorations and songs, a scene where he wears a Santa hat) in a kind of depressing way. It also emphasizes the difference between the world outside and the one inside the casinos.

There is one shitty music choice that bothered me. When the first fight starts we go into some generic techno that seems standard for a dumb action movie but completely out of place in this one. Thankfully that’s the only part in the movie that does that. The big bar fight, for example, is set to the Drifters version of “White Christmas,” which works really well, better than some of the pretty cheesy music in HEAT, actually.

(I also noticed on the credits that they apparently used two cues from AMERICAN GANGSTER. I didn’t catch it, though.)

I also like West’s choice to show closeups of Holly sewing while she tells Nick about what happened to her. It’s a creative, stereotypically female act, but when the penetrating needle fills the screen it mirrors the violence of her story. It sort of reflects the vicious side they’ve unleashed from this seemingly harmless person. (Though again I thought the original actor, Karen Young, was more convincing.)

I’m really impressed that West pulled this off, because he’s not only remaking a movie I really liked, but replacing almost-director Brian DePalma, who I was very excited to see work with Statham. So he’s got a couple pairs of shoes to fill, and though they’re pretty loose and giving him blisters he can still walk okay. Respect is due.

As much as I want you to support and enjoy this, I also gotta recommend watching the original version. Maybe not back-to-back, because they’re so similar, but HEAT gets the humanity of losers better. WILD CARD, on the other hand, is way better at having Jason Statham in it.

acr_wildcard

Statham remake score card:

Stath has portrayed characters previously played by

David Carradine
Charles Bronson
Lee Marvin/Jim Brown/Robert Duvall/Mel Gibson
Burt Reynolds

(he’s also been in remakes of THE LONGEST YARD, THE ITALIAN JOB, THE PINK PANTHER and 13 TZAMETI)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Friday, February 6th, 2015 at 4:15 pm and is filed under Action, Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

18 Responses to “Wild Card”

  1. The Continental Op

    February 6th, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    I remember back when SAFE came out we talked about this one when De Palma was on board. Still want to see it, but the heart weeps for what could have been. De Palma’s version was set in France, I believe.

  2. Haven’t seen the original, but really enjoyed this one. The casino fight and the behind-the-diner fight were both great. Very clear, amde good use of the environments and the stuff in it, the takedowns were satisfyingly brutal. Good stuff. Also, the original actress that played Holly may have been better, but there was something about this one (Andy Garcia’s daughter, it turns out!) that really intrigued me. Maybe it’s just a superficial thing, I dunno. I wanna see her in more stuff.

  3. The original is superior I think but since most folks haven’t seen it probably won’t matter to them. But if you do search out the fist one you will see a hell of a performance from not only Burt, but his stunt man as well. Who makes quite a few pop ins throughout the picture. My personal favorite when he takes out the two body guards and later jumps up to kick a light out on a roof.

  4. I liked WILD CARD a lot. I’m also enjoying this later period Statham renaissance. REDEMPTION, SAFE, and WILD CARD have all been good. Films with well-shot action in them, but also not afraid to go a bit deeper into the characters. And also, I never felt like I was watching a dumb movie with these. They actually have put effort into writing them. It’s great.

    I hope Statham keeps on picking interesting projects, and not be afraid of explore different, more vulnerable sides of the characters he plays. Even if they’re still built around implanting fists into faces.

  5. I wouldn’t worry too much about Statham’s career. He’s got supporting parts in two films this year that are likely to be huge (Furious 7 and Spy), and his Mechanic sequel is confirmed for a wide release early next year, and it sounds promising so far.

    Sure, the guy could use a hit. But being the villain in what is probably 2015’s biggest pure action movie sure won’t damage his profile.

  6. Good points. I just checked and THE MECHANIC sequel has Vic Armstrong as second unit director and fights by J.J. Perry, so that gives me hopes that the action will be improved from the first one (which I enjoyed despite shakiness).

  7. I am glad they made a sequel, it’s the only way to redeem the lousy cop-out ending of the remake which pissed over the most memorable part of the original film. Film as a whole was OK, and I can live with the ending if it gives the world another Statham movie, good or bad.

  8. I really hope this gets more recognition (it just came out, straight to bluray), I thought it was pretty great. It’s got just the right balance of the dramatic and the satisfyingly violent kick-arse payoffs that Statham is so good at. Plus, the guy can carry a monologue or two (he was the best thing about Guy Ritchies redundant gangster films), even if his range is limited to weary tough guy with a good heart who doesn’t want to go out of his way to fight but will bring the pain if you insist.

    I laughed pretty hard in the final fight when Statham does a runner out the back of the diner, chased by the goons, and the camera pans over him lying on top of a roof, armed with a butter knife and soup spoon. His use of improvised weaponry is even more impressive and resourceful than The Equalizer’s Boston Hardware Massacre, based on what he had at his disposal. Again, he didn’t want to fight, but he knew he had to to get rid of these guys, and I like the cutaway to his visual dream of being on the yacht, kinda like Max in COLLATERAL with his dream island photo tucked away in his taxi’s visor, reminding him why he does what he does.

    I share JTS’s admiration for Andy Garcia’s daughter – she looks and sounds like her father, even in the way she says “okay”, with that accent.

  9. And I like your rule Vern, supporting these guys by paying to see them on the big screen. But since the last half a dozen or so have gone straight to DVD here – SABOTAGE, ESCAPE PLAN, HOMEFRONT, REDEMPTION, WILD CARD etc, I usually show my support by buying them on release, when for most other movies I want to buy I’d wait a few months till they dropped in price. I’ll do the same for Cage actioners, but I get burned now and again (OUTCAST).

  10. I’m conflicted. My desire to support Jason Statham is often in direct opposition to my desire to never see another Simon West movie as long as I live.

  11. THE XPNDBLS 2 is I guess quite questionable. But I am fine with West. Rewatched THE MECHANIC a few weeks back and I thought it was better than most people give it credit for.

  12. THE MECHANIC is pretty much my poster child for everything wrong with modern action cinema. Ugly, bile-tinted color scheme? Check. Incomprehensible editing and cinematography? Check. Remake of a far better movie? Check. Complete ignorance of the tenets of badass setup and payoff? Check. Joyless and unearned solemnity? Check. Stupid, unsatisfying twists instead of climax and catharsis? Check. Wishy-washiness in portraying an even slightly unsympathetic anti-hero? Check. Utter waste of performers’ physical prowess? Check. It’s really got it all. They should show it in film school to teach future directors how not to make an action film.

    THE MECHANIC actually made me swear off theatrical action movies for nearly a year. Then West followed it up with THE EXPENDABLES 2, still my pick for most insulting piece of shit ever made. When the only thing in his plus column is CON AIR, easily the most overrated and destructively influential action movie of all time, I think it’s fair to write him off.

  13. Reading your response makes me question myself. Am I living in some sort of denial? You paint out a much worse version of THE MECHANIC than I ever saw. Was it some kind of Special Asshole Cut of the movie?. I never thought the action was incomprehensible.

  14. I haven’t seen it since the theater so maybe the action plays better on TV, where expectations are lower and you’re not trapped in a dark room with the thing that’s disappointing you. I thought it was pretty terrible. There’s a car driving through a bus and they show maybe 12 frames of it. Why? It’s one of your big action beats and you just want to throw it away because you’re too cool to admit that violence and spectacle is all your utterly mercenary project (not an insult) has going for it?

  15. But really, it’s not so much about THE MECHANIC as an individual film for me, it’s just that it was the moment when I finally got fed up with an entire decade-plus of the genre I love most abusing my loyalty with sloppy, insulting, sub-standard product. It’s probably not the worst example, but it was the last straw for me. Action and I have since kissed and made up, but while I can forgive I can never forget its hurtful transgressions, symbolized for me by THE MECHANIC and its hack architect, Simon West.

  16. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on this one Majestyk. The filmatism was a major improvement – steadily paced and edited, even a bit artful in the fight scenes. And CON AIR is a whole lotta fun, for worse and better.

  17. I’m sure I’ll watch it sooner or later. I get around to all the Stathams eventually, and I’m a fan of both the original film and the source novel. I’ll even try to have an open mind.

  18. Oh, hey you guys, I forgot to to tell you that last week I went and watched this and actually liked it a lot. Maybe it’s because this story is too weird and interesting for even Simon West to fuck up too bad–I’ve seen both movies and read the book and it hasn’t gotten old–but I thought it was nicely and even timelessly crafted. I guess even a broken clock that can’t direct movies for shit is right once in a while.

    It’s not a total success. I feel that the best parts of the original are not matched, but the parts that weren’t so hot are improved on. I fully agree that Statham pulls off the “deadliest motherfucker in Vegas” side of the character better than Burt did, but “There’s a melancholy about me because my best days are behind me” is not something Statham can convincingly display at this point in his life. I’m cool with that because it just feels like a different kind of character. He’s saying the same words but he’s not the same guy. Kind of cool.

    Still no discussion of the pre-violence raise in temperature of the main character’s testicles, though, which is where the original novel got its title from. So I feel this is a missed opportunity. There will probably only be three or four more versions of this story produced in our lifetimes so somebody had better get on that shit soon. I’d hate for this telling piece of character-building to never make it to the screen, preferably with early-F&F-style CGI insert shots of heated blood rushing through the character’s circulatory system until it reaches his nutsac and causes an explosion. This is what cinema was made for.

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