If you're like me, or if you're a sane person, then a new Jason Statham film, whatever it is, is reason for rejoicing. Maybe even doing a little jig, in a manly way.
After a fantastic and prolific run of films from The Expendables through to Redemption/Hummingbird, Homefront, while it was good fun, seemed a bit like treading water for old Stath. Then last year we only had the lacklustre Expendables 3 in which Stath was relegated to the sidelines, first with the appearance of the wonderful Wesley Snipes (which we didn't mind) but then bizarrely and wrongly for Ellen Klutz! (Kellan Lutz)
2015 though is shaping up to be more of a usual run for Jason Statham. It begins with Wild Card, we have his first foray into big budget comedy with Spy and a lead baddie role in the much anticipated Furious 7. Then hot on the heals of all that he kicks off 2016 with a sequel to his awesome take on Bronson and Winner's The Mechanic with Mechanic: Resurrection.
Ok, so to Wild Card then, what's the verdict?
Well the first thing I should point out is that it's not really an action movie, in the traditional sense. There is action in it and two of the scenes in particular are joyous, violent, exciting, well shot, brilliantly executed and suitably cathartic but overall I would describe it as a character piece with a slice of crime drama and action/revenge film tacked on for good measure.
I have read tons of reviews coming down on this movie, mostly criticising The Stath, and I have to say that they couldn't all be more wrong. The two best things about this movie are Statham and Simon West, the director. The third best thing is Vegas.
First though, let's get the bad news out of the way. The one thing the other critics won't say or do is criticise the Hollywood legend William Goldman who penned this film, the book it's based on and the Burt Reynolds version of the same story Heat from 1986. I, however, am not most critics. This script, which is almost identical in places to Heat, has no structure, pretty weak dialogue and never quite delves into the character of Nick Wild in the way the movie sort of suggests it should.
Let me explain that last part.
The film is made up of lots of little strands of plots. A crime story involving the mob and a battered woman's revenge, a wealthy kid who hires Wild to bring him out of himself and be more of a man and, all the while, Wild wanting to leave Vegas but also never quite being able to. None of which are ultimately, really important as they are all meant to just add up to a character study of Nick Wild who, we learn, is a well liked security expert/bodyguard/problem solver with a rough exterior but a heart of gold who has a little issue gambling.
It's the 'throw enough bits in a pot and you'll be able to cook something' approach to screenwriting.
What depth, character and moments there are to be found are brought out by the collaboration of Simon West and Jason Statham, not by anything readily apparent in the script, and the pair of them are superb here.
It's a difficult watch though because it's not a standard narrative. The crime story sort of has a three act structure but not really and the film, if it was a traditional film, just sort of ends.
The other thing that threw me out of the film a little was the whole world Nick inhabited was populated by famous actors but all of them just showed up for one, sometimes two small scenes. It's an interesting way to cast a film but it did leave me sitting there thinking 'what the hell are they doing in here for just 5mins? that's a bit mad' rather than fully engaging with their characters.
Stanley Tucci, Jason Alexander, Sofia Vergara, Hope Davis, and Anne Heche all just crop up and are gone almost as soon as they appear. They play such innocuous, nothing roles as waitresses, card dealers, a lawyer, a mobster... just random 'that guy' roles but being played by recognisable, fairly high tier, character actors.
Due to the nature of the plot and the nature of the casting, when the film ends you sort of wish you could spend a lot more time in this world. I have heard this said by another critic but it's something I agree with, it's almost like a pilot for a Statham driven show on HBO or Showtime. It has that kind of plot and casting. A TV Show, I might add, I would watch every week. However as a film it does feel slightly like 90 minutes of set up and no pay off.
All that being said Vegas has never looked so 50s, shabby and cool. Simon West directs with the sure hand of an old pro while also putting in some welcome style and interesting editing. It has a 50s meets 70s feel, it's scored with groovy, slow versions of Christmas songs and it's very very cool.
Nick Wild is also a great Statham character because while he can handle himself physically, and he does in some tremendously choreographed, beautifully shot, violent as all hell fight scenes, he also has a nice sense of humour, a strong moral principle and a weakness for the cards. It is only this last aspect, the gambling addiction that traps him in the purgatory of Vegas, that just doesn't come across very well. There's either not enough time spent on it, the script doesn't write it well enough or it just belongs in another movie like a "Leaving Las Vegas" style thing perhaps. Statham does his best to sell it though.
If I had to pitch it to you it's Drive (the Ryan Gosling film) meets Leaving Las Vegas the TV Show pilot with Jason Statham.
I would say catch it on VOD unless you're a hardcore Stath head like I am. It does look kick ass on the big screen though, just saying.