In the pantheon of Jason Statham movies, I hope that someone starts recognizing his latest efforts as more than just an attempt to cash-in on his name. Redemption (formerly known as Hummingbird, the far less generic title) was a down-to-earth Statham that had moments of humanity which we rarely get to see in his career. It didn’t even really have that much action. His latest film Wild Card, is more on the action side but tries to balance the humility with the violence to minor success. However, what it doesn’t present in depth, it more than makes up for in visceral action combined with an incredible performance from its cast.
Statham plays Nick Wild, a man who gallivants around Las Vegas as a bodyguard for those who need protection while out on the strip. His action hero days are over, and he has hopes to leave the slums of Vegas for a nice tropical paradise, when he gets the $500,000 he needs to make it happen. I got really excited when the opening scene of the film was Statham getting drunk and thinking he could beat the daylight out of a toupe-wearing Max Casella, when in reality, Statham is the one who ends up on the ground and embarassed.
It was this brief moment of self-awareness that made me smile as Statham’s character felt like a reflection of his own career. When he eventually is asked for help from Holly (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) to take vengeance on some men who raped and beat her the night before, Nick demonstrates that he is more than capable of still handling himself if everything goes awry. Naturally, these moments are the moments worth sitting through the film, and they happen frequently enough that you’re still riding off a high by the time the next one happens.
That being said, pacing is not the film’s strong suit. This is in part due to the moments when we see Nick as this aimless character who doesn’t really want to leave Vegas, but also can’t admit it to himself. When these moments of aimlessness occur, they do add to the character of Nick Wild, but they do not benefit the film. An extended gambling sequence helps to bridge the gap between action scenes, and is considerably well done, leaving a palpable mark on both the viewer and Nick.
The elements of Wild Card worth emphasizing mainly circle around Nick as a character. Statham conveys every emotion in a more-than-convincing manner, hearkening back to the days of Snatch – when he got to act more than experiencing the thrill of a punch in the face (or the slice of a credit card on the forehead). But its hard to recognize him as more than just an action star, which is why Wild Card makes itself feel unique. It still has Statham being Statham, but not in a way that makes the film feel centered around it.
Wild Card feels like a very self-aware film, built specifically for Statham; or really, any action star who is only known for his action. The kicker? It’s directed by Simon West, a guy who really is only known for his action. As evident in the movie, no one working on those sequences was inexperienced. It is those moments of humility that really only come through because of Statham’s performance. Otherwise, the highlights of the film come out in the exact ways you expect: action and humor. With the only long stretch of laughs coming from the brief moment that Stanley Tucci shows up and does his best mafia boss.
What I’ve begun to notice, and this happens in other acting careers, is this gradual push towards something that feels less predictable. It’s extremely gradual, though. Statham kind of shot himself in the foot when he was found almost-exclusively in action films, from Crank to War to Death Race to Crank 2: High Voltage to all of The Expendables films. So now it is probably difficult for him to get attached to more dramatic pieces, which is why movies like Wild Card and Redemption must matter a great deal to him. They give him a chance to excel while experimenting, but the problem with Wild Card is that while he is experimenting, the rest of the crew is trying to make an action film.