There are surely better remake candidates in Hollywood’s recent past than Heat—not 1995’s Michael Mann classic, but a mostly (and rightfully) forgotten 1986 movie starring Burt Reynolds as a Mexican badass. It must have been the talent that got Wild Card made: Thinking man’s action hero Jason Statham stars, and he’s directed by Simon West (Con Air, The Expendables 2) in a screenplay by William Goldman (Marathon Man, The Princess Bride, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid). But even that gene pool—along with an impressive supporting cast that includes tiny roles for Stanley Tucci, Jason Alexander, Anne Heche, and Hope Davis—can’t elevate Wild Card to anything more than a largely forgettable lark, notable more for its slight diversions from action-movie norms than anything else.
Statham stars as Nick Wild, and the name change (Reynolds played Nick “Mex” Escalante, but Statham would’ve been even less convincing) is one of just a small handful of deviations from the original script. Nick is a Vegas tough guy who insists on being called a “chaperone” when really he’s muscle. He knows everybody in town, from the blackjack dealers to the maids to the mob bosses, and everybody admires and/or respects him as a straight shooter. When a young stranger comes looking to hire him, Nick at first brushes him off before launching into a soliloquy that begins, “I’ve been knocked down, blown up, lied to, shit on, and shot at, so nothing much surprises me anymore.”
When Nick’s hooker-with-a-heart-of-stone friend (Dominik García-Lorido) is brutally beaten by a cartoonish gangster played by Milo Ventimiglia, he at first refuses to help her get revenge: He’s smart enough to know when to walk away. But a little guilt trip nudges him toward slow-motion violence, which is when we learn that Nick Wild is some kind of unstoppable ass-kicker with a secret history and that he eschews firearms in favor of whatever’s handy, including sharpened credit cards, a medallion, and an ashtray. Nick and the hooker grab the gangster’s cash and split, planning to head their separate ways out of town.
Where a more modern action movie might springboard from there into a predictable cat-and-mouse game, Wild Card builds an uneasy alliance between a ’70s-indebted flawed-detective story and silly ’80s action. It attempts some character depth via Nick’s gambling problem—Statham says that he wants to leave Vegas for good at least a dozen times—but then loses that goodwill with a tonally bizarre performance from that young stranger who appeared at the beginning: It’s as if puppy dog Michael Angarano was flown in from a different movie, or maybe an afterschool special, to teach and be taught life lessons. By the time the last blood is spilled, Wild Card is almost irredeemably silly, a fun but forgettable macho fantasy that will surely age as poorly as its source material has—only quicker.