Vegas-set 'Wild Card' draws an, oh, so predictable hand

Betsy Sharkey
Los Angeles Times Film Critic
Jason Statham stars as a P.I. who specializes in the low-life scene in Vegas in the new thriller 'Wild Card'

Do you know what happens when you push a bone-breaking jujitsu expert to the, well, breaking point? Action, baby, action, and the bodies they do pile up like presents under the tree in the new action movie "Wild Card."

Jason Statham stars as Nick Wild, a P.I. who specializes in the low-life scene in Vegas, where business is usually booming. This particular Christmas, however, it's slow, and Nick goes soft, forgetting to be his normally steely self.

With trouble around every corner, Statham soon gets into his groove, using hands, feet, lightning-fast speed and found objects — a spoon, guys, beware the spoon — to fight off endless hordes of muscled baddies with guns.

As in most of the the British action star's films, Statham's mastery of mixed martial arts and kickboxing is far more important than his ability to growl out the clipped, caustic lines he is usually handed.

"Wild Card" seemed as if it might break that pattern.

It is based on the William Goldman novel "Heat" as well as adapted by him. The mere prospect of a new thriller from the novelist and screenwriter who won Oscars for penning "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "All the President's Men" was enough to pique the interest.

Sadly, "Wild Card" is no royal flush, no full house, no three of a kind. A bust is I think the term I'm searching for.

Although the film has little of the smarts and the sizzle of the best of Goldman, it does have a splash of the writer's sense of irony. It becomes one of "Wild Card's" few saving graces. The film, directed by B-action specialist Simon West ("Con Air," "The Mechanic" also starring Statham), never takes itself too seriously. A good strategy for moviegoers as well.

There are two stories running on parallel tracks that are destined to cross at critical times. One is about a rich computer nerd named Cyrus (Michael Angarano) who wants to hire Nick as gambling tour guide/protection service — playing the humanizing chord, requiring Nick to be something close to a regular fellow.

The other involves a lady of the night, Holly (Dominik García-Lorido), who's still got some kind of claim on Nick's heart. Danny DeMarco (Milo Ventimiglia) is the local high-roller who did her wrong. Baby (Stanley Tucci) is the big guy to beware of.

There are scores to settle, massive amounts of money to be won and lost at the tables, a good-hearted waitress in a 24-hour diner always pouring coffee (Anne Heche), a sexy, slick dealer named Cassandra (Hope Davis) and all the other Vegas regulars you'd expect to bump into on the Strip at 4 a.m. on Christmas Eve.

"Wild's" fight scenes are not particularly chilling, thrilling, but they are a good deal of fun. Otherwise, Nick's contemplating his sorry state and those PTSD flashbacks he's always having over a shot of whiskey. Yawn.

In most things, "Wild Card" is predictable, so you can guess how it ends. There. Are. No. Surprises.

And yet. Let us pause for a moment to reflect on the incredible acting prowess of Stanley Tucci. He makes even bad films better just by being there. "Wild Card" proves it once again.

Watching Tucci use "wry" and "irony" exactly as God and Webster's intended to chew up his two-minute scene is almost worth the price of a ticket. Almost.


'Wild Card'

MPAA rating: R for strong violence, language and some sexuality/nudity

Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes

Playing: AMC Burbank 8, Burbank; AMC Block 20, Orange; Video on Demand

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