It becomes quickly clear in "Wild Card," the latest vehicle for the hunky, brooding British action star Jason Statham, that his character doesn't need a gun to maim or kill. Guns are for wimps. Statham can wreak havoc with virtually any sharp implement, including his own head.
What he does need, however, is a sharper script.
The pedigree of Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman notwithstanding, "Wild Card," a remake of the writer's 1986 "Heat" based on his novel of the same name, is an unsatisfying mishmash of action movie, unlikely-buddy flick and meditation on the scourge of gambling. At times, it recalls "The Gambler" (another recent disappointment, and also a remake); at others, "The Equalizer," and at others, any number of moody, seedy Vegas-themed films. All these directions could have been promising, but nothing truly coherent emerges.
Not that Statham doesn't display his sturdy, reliable appeal here — particularly when we get to see the humanity peeking through his brawny, altogether pleasing exterior.
We learn immediately that his Nick Wild, a freelance Las Vegas bodyguard who's seen better days, is a thoroughly decent guy at heart. In an opening scene, we see him harass a shorter, weaker, man out for a drink with his gorgeous girlfriend (Sofia Vergara, one of several big names making quick cameos). Improbably, the smaller guy cleans Nick's clock. Later, we learn it was all an act, allowing the guy to impress his gal. He offers Nick $1,000, twice what was planned. Nick refuses the bonus.
Nick also rises to the occasion when Holly (Dominik Garcia-Lordo), a woman from his past, comes to him with a problem: She's been brutally assaulted by a gangster thug based in a fancy hotel, and wants vengeance. Nick resists — he doesn't want to get killed — but they both know he'll step in and defend her.
Then there's Nick's unlikely friendship with a nerdy young entrepreneur, Cyrus (Michael Angarano), who comes to Vegas seeking Nick's tutelage in how to become a tougher man. Nick is annoyed, at first, but this bromance will become crucial by the end of the film.
It is Cyrus who sits by and watches, incredulously, as Nick wins, then loses, his future — at the blackjack tables. Nick, you see, is an addictive gambler, and like Mark Wahlberg's character in "The Gambler," he just doesn't know when to walk away. He dreams of leaving Vegas for good and settling on the island of Corsica (why Corsica? It's lovely, but is there a compelling backstory here?) And yet just when he's made an inordinate sum at blackjack and is about to cash in, he decides to take it all back to the table one more time. You can imagine how THAT turns out.
Meanwhile, remember that brutal gangster thug? Well, Holly got her revenge, thanks to Nick, but now the thug, Danny DeMarco (Milo Ventimiglia) is out to punish Nick for the humiliation he endured (let's just say it involved a pair of garden shears, aimed at his most private assets).
Suddenly, Stanley Tucci shows up for one scene. As always, this is a very welcome development. Tucci, who can liven up any movie, plays Baby, a stylish mobster who wields enough power to play judge and jury in the dispute between Nick and Danny. Also spicing up the proceedings is the excellent Hope Davis as Cassandra, a blackjack dealer with a soft spot for Nick.
With a supporting cast like this, one might — and should — expect more from Goldman and his director, Simon West. But ultimately, we're left with the vaguely uncomfortable feeling like we missed the whole point.
"Wild Card," a Lionsgate release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America "for strong violence, language and some sexuality/nudity. " Running time: 92 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
MPAA definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.