Wild Card is a 2015 remake of the 1986 Burt Reynolds film “Heat,” which itself was adapted form the novel of the same title by William Goldman. Goldman, a novelist, screenwriter, and playwright, enjoys an acclaimed reputation as a master story-teller, and his original adaptation of his novel to the screen of course stays faithful to the story’s intent. No such luck was experienced by the producers of “Wild Card,” which strays farther from the original production and doesn’t make any improvements. The movie was a bomb at the box office and has received pan reviews from critics and viewers alike.
Nick Wild (the title comes from his last name, naturally), played by Jason Statham, is a washed-up former gambler who’s hired as a bodyguard for a rich Las Vegas mogul. He’s immediately sidetracked by a note from a woman, Holly, who asks his assistance in tracking down some men who assaulted her. Those men turn out to be high-profile mafiosi, and Nick goes to confront them. Nick makes short work of the men after a brief scuffle and Holly arrives. Together they rob the gangsters and split the cash, but Nick, a gambling addict, can’t resist riding the money on bets at the casino until he loses it all again. Now he’s in trouble with the mob and all of Las Vegas seems too small to hide him.
As with the original, the story takes place in Las Vegas and is up to its eyeballs in gambling, casinos, criminals, and the party life of the town. The story also gets very seedy; The assault on Holly was sexual in nature, and Holly’s first suggested course of revenge is to castrate her attackers with gardening sheers, just one of many cringe-inducing scenes in the film.
For William Goldman fans, the movie is sure to disappoint. Neither the whimsical magic of “The Princess Bride” nor the spellbinding drama of “A Few Good Men” are on view here. The movie just puts on its pants and marches grimly off to work, knee-deep in a story that doesn’t flatter the performers or the place they’re set in. Goldman himself has expressed regret for ever making this movie, both the 1986 version and the 2015 version. So does that make him twice bitten, thrice shy?
There are many flaws combining to sink this film. It was a passion project by Jason Statham, who maintained editorial control throughout the project. It has too much dialogue to be a good action flick and too many fight scenes to be a good drama. The fact that Statham is a martial arts expert and the fight scenes were choreographed as martial arts fights doesn’t help; the whole element seems out of place in Las Vegas amid the poker tables and cocktail waitresses. The story doesn’t really follow much of a point; random events happen for random reasons and then the protagonist is bailed out of trouble at the end by a shameless lucky coincidence. None of the characters particularly inspire much sympathy, and the whole work just comes off as grim.
To its almost-saving grace, the story at least does examine gambling addiction. Nick, in explaining his decisions, at one point confesses that while the score from the mobsters is enough to keep him comfortable for awhile, it isn’t enough to make him for life. And so back he trudges to the tables, trying to make his small fortune into a nest egg. This is the only answer he knows, and without an outside force, Nick will spend his life resolutely watching his fate unfold with each flop of the card shoe or roll of the dice. He doesn’t want to have several small victories; he wants to win big once and be done with it. In short, he just wants out, but can’t find a way on his own.
While the movie is competent at what it does, it would have been much better had it had more originality. The fact that Burt Reynolds did it all flashier and yet the original story still failed to be a success back in 1986 just puts another millstone on “Wild Card”‘s conscience. Here is a very pedestrian movie with no reason to exist beyond the fact that one action movie actor wanted to make it.