I’m not entirely certain why Wild Card is called Wild Card, since the protagonist plays blackjack the whole time. I will grant you that his name is “Jack Wild,” which is groan-inducing to the extreme, but the word “Jack” is in there too, isn’t it? Was Jack of All Trades too wordy? Was Blackjack too “iffy?” Could no one come up with a less generic, more fitting title for one of the better crime movies in recent years?
[Correction: It has been brought to my attention that Jason Statham’s character’s name is actually “Nick” Wild. The name has been changed throughout the rest of this review. The original paragraph shall remain “as is” in an effort to remind me to take more meticulous notes.]
Indeed, all of my complaints about Wild Card stem from that lazy, thoughtless title. The film is a pulpy, enjoyable caper filled with unexpected plot twists and memorable characters, even when they only get a few lines of dialogue. It stars Jason Statham, and he kicks a prerequisite amount of ass, but the real selling point is the rich and densely populated world of Las Vegas and the self-interest that interferes with each character’s pursuit of happiness.
Statham plays Nick Wild (oh, that name), a security expert who takes odd jobs like protecting a rich kid on a gambling vacation, and really odd jobs like taking a fall in a bar fight so a schlub can look good in front of his girlfriend. Nick dreams of making enough money to escape Las Vegas and live a carefree life on a boat, but he can’t say no to people in need, and he also can’t say no to a winning streak. He’s like Rick Blaine with a crappier job, a gambling addiction and a master’s degree in kung fu.
When Nick’s ex-girlfriend Holly (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) comes to him with a shocking story, accusing a mafioso’s son of assault and rape, Nick can’t resist the urge to become involved. And normally, that would be enough for any movie: a roaring rampage of revenge, tier after tier of deadly villains, and finally the no holds barred confrontation with the bad guy behind it all. But Wild Card gets Holly’s vengeance out of the way quickly, wisely understanding that exacting their vigilante justice on a powerful, egomaniacal man-child like Danny DeMarco (Milo Ventimiglia) comes with consequences that will change Nick’s life forever.
So now Nick needs to skip town, and he needs to skip town fast. What follows is an impressively complicated look at the kind of man Nick really is, and the way his superficial heroism stems from obsessive and destructive compulsions. It throws him into the realm of the ultimate Las Vegas fantasy, then the ultimate Las Vegas nightmare, until it finally culminates in a satisfying dramatic payoff that celebrates his finest qualities while acknowledging that this hero – this seemingly old-fashioned, pedestal-worthy tough guy hero – still has a lot of issues to work through.
Written by the great William Goldman (All the President’s Men) and directed by Simon West (The Mechanic), a generally middlebrow director who apparently shines when he’s got a really good script to work with, Wild Card is a fine motion picture. It takes the audience in unfamiliar directions, but it never leaves their comfort zone altogether. It’s a memorably smart, unpredictable crime drama with exciting thrills and intriguing characters. And although it never doubles down by entering into the realm of actual brilliance, it lets its finer qualities ride. You’ll have a fun riding along with it.