Friday, January 30, 2015

In Theaters/On VOD: WILD CARD (2015)

(US - 2015)

Directed by Simon West. Written by William Goldman. Cast: Jason Statham, Michael Angarano, Milo Ventimiglia, Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Stanley Tucci, Hope Davis, Anne Heche, Sofia Vergara, Jason Alexander, Max Casella, Francois Vincentelli, Chris Browning, Matthew Willig, Davenia McFadden. (R, 92 mins)

Jason Statham's peak days as a solo box-office draw appear to be hitting a valley with recent under-performers like KILLER ELITE (2011), SAFE (2012), PARKER (2013), and HOMEFRONT (2013). Even the third EXPENDABLES entry did significantly less business than its predecessors, and all of that has combined to damn WILD CARD to a limited release/VOD burial from Lionsgate, who've apparently lost faith in Statham's ability to open a movie. None of this means the 47-year-old action hero is done: he's still got his Liam Neeson action icon rebirth to look forward to in a decade or so, and in the immediate future, he's playing the villain in the upcoming FURIOUS 7, and teams up with Melissa McCarthy in the slapstick comedy SPY, due out this summer. WILD CARD is a remake of the forgotten 1987 Burt Reynolds box-office bomb HEAT, based on a novel by Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman (BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, MARATHON MAN). If HEAT is remembered at all today, it's for being the movie where an irate Reynolds infamously punched director Dick Richards in the face after an on-set disagreement. Scripted by Goldman himself, HEAT was so plagued by production problems that Richards was actually the film's second director, a replacement for Robert Altman, who quit after one day of shooting. After the altercation with Reynolds, Richards quit and was then replaced by veteran journeyman Jerry Jameson (AIRPORT '77), who finished the movie without incident, with final credit going to a semi-pseudonymous "R.M. Richards."

HEAT was Reynolds' first film back from being sidelined for two years by a jaw injury sustained on the set of 1984's CITY HEAT, when he was shooting a fight scene and was hit in the face by a real chair instead of a breakaway prop chair. He had to have reconstructive jaw surgery and was on a liquid diet for months, leading to a drastic weight loss and rumors that he was dying of AIDS. Reynolds looked fit and healthy in HEAT, but by that point, audiences stopped caring. Just a few years earlier, he was the biggest movie star in the world, but by early 1987, HEAT was in and out of theaters in two weeks. The film itself is a noble failure, but it's better than its reputation, with a solid performance by Reynolds, and unlike most of his 1980s work, he's actually trying. HEAT was more a character study than an action thriller--probably why Altman was involved in the first place--and Reynolds took it seriously, but the few who saw it wanted an action movie.

Since so few people remember HEAT (and it's been slightly overshadowed by another, much more revered HEAT), it should be easy for audiences to take WILD CARD on its own terms. Goldman, now 83 and with his first screenplay credit in 12 years, essentially dusts off his HEAT script and adds a few modern touches, but it's largely the same film in terms of plot. However, its most unexpected element is that it only succeeds in making one appreciate HEAT. WILD CARD offers Statham in mostly serious mode (like the similarly dumped REDEMPTION) and while his acting chops are better than he's even given credit, he just looks bored here and can't enliven this bland, lifeless story. Statham is Nick Wild, a Las Vegas "security consultant" reduced to letting clients deck him to impress their girlfriends. He's trying to put together a $500K nest egg to pack up and move to Corsica, but even he knows he'll just be counting the days until he's back in Vegas. Like HEAT, WILD CARD gives Nick two stories that never really come together: his prostitute ex Holly (Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Andy Garcia's daughter) is brutally beaten and raped by sniveling brat mob scion Danny DeMarco (Milo Ventimiglia) and his two dudebro goons, prompting her to beg Nick to help her exact revenge; and Nick is also pestered by wealthy computer genius Cyrus Kinnick (Michael Angarano), a likable but spineless sort who wants lessons in standing up for himself and facing his fears.

And that's pretty much it. A number of familiar faces turn up in brief roles--Anne Heche as a waitress, Hope Davis as a blackjack dealer, Jason Alexander as Nick's lawyer/business partner Pynchus "Pinky" Zion (played by a scene-stealing Howard Hesseman in HEAT), Sofia Vergara as a woman impressed that her weakling beau handled Nick (she's gone before the opening credits), and Stanley Tucci as a flamboyant, god-like, mob-connected casino boss who tries to mediate the dispute between Nick and DeMarco while acting like a slightly toned-down version of Dean Stockwell's Ben in BLUE VELVET. Director Simon West (CON AIR, THE EXPENDABLES 2, and the Statham remake of THE MECHANIC) tries to keep things low-key, even attempting that sort of juxtaposed, jump-forward-then-backtracking with overlapping past/future dialogue editing style frequently (and much more successfully) used by Steven Soderbergh in films like THE LIMEY and OUT OF SIGHT, but coming from the School of Bruckheimer, he's utterly lacking in the nuance and the sense of fluidity required to make tricks like that work. Brian De Palma was signed on to direct this when it was announced but he quit the project during pre-production. One can only imagine how much differently WILD CARD might've turned out with the split-screens and the split-diopter shots and Statham really getting to show his range for one of cinema's all-time great filmmakers. The possibilities, even with De Palma not at the top of his game and in the self-parody phase of his career, are more exciting to ponder than anything that ended up in the finished product.

The worst part of WILD CARD is the distracting and clumsy insertion of elaborately-choreographed fight scenes overseen by veteran martial-arts coordinator Cory Yuen (director of THE TRANSPORTER). This is clearly intended to be a character-driven drama for Statham, but the occasional outbursts of quick-cut martial-arts mayhem as Nick breaks out the JOHN WICKstrionics are jarringly incongruous to the rest of the film and are obviously only there to prevent this from completely turning into the Statham equivalent of KILLING THEM SOFTLY, the kind of dialogue-heavy, misleadingly-advertised mood piece that would've sent die-hard action fans bolting for the exits. But WILD CARD's dramatic elements don't work either, the film ends with an almost anti-climactic shrug of surrender, and when it's all said and done, it's just a tonally confused DOA dud that can't reconcile giving its star a chance to stretch with the expectation that he be a one-man wrecking crew. It does nothing to correct the mistakes of HEAT--which were due more to its messy production than anything else--and instead just ends up making more of its own that are totally unique to this pointless remake of a film that absolutely no one was demanding. Statham's having a really off-day here, and while it's likely that the declining box office of his solo actioners in the last couple of years might've a hand in the stealth release of WILD CARD, there's also no way of getting around the fact that it's his worst film and that's the more likely reason why Lionsgate opted to sneak this into as few theaters as possible.

No comments:

Post a Comment