Wild Card (2015)


Never get Jason Statham's drink order wrong.

Never get Jason Statham’s drink order wrong.

(2015) Action (Lionsgate) Jason Statham, Michael Angarano, Milo Ventimiglia, Hope Davis, Dominik Garcia-Londo, Max Casella, Stanley Tucci, Jason Alexander, Sofia Vergara, Anne Heche, Francois Vincentelli, Chris Browning, Matthew Willig, Davenia McFadden, Michael Papajohn, Jean Claude Leuyer, Grace Santo, Lara Grice, Shanna Forrestall. Directed by Simon West

Life is a bit of a gamble when you think about it. We can control things to a certain extent but circumstance and luck have quite a bit to do with it as well. All of our best laid plans can be irrevocably changed in an instant.

Nick Wild (Statham) is a bit of a Las Vegas fixture. He is one of those guys that if you need a favor, he’s the one you see. Some of these favors he charges for – for example, he takes a beating from a guy so that he can impress his girlfriend (Vergara) for $500. He works out of the office of lawyer Pinky (Alexander) where he is introduced to tech billionaire Cyrus Kinnick (Angarano) who wants a bodyguard and, as it turns out, something more.

Then there are the favors he does for free. When his ex-lover Holly (Garcia-Londo) is beaten up and raped, he uses his connections with mob boss Baby (Tucci) to find out who done the deed and discovers it’s Danny DeMarco (Ventimiglia), the sadistic scumbag son of a highly placed East Coast mob boss. Using his impressive fighting skills, which were honed in a British special forces division, he subdues DeMarco’s bodyguards and allows Holly to take her revenge, after which she flees Vegas, taking with her money from DeMarco’s desk, some of which she gives to Nick for his fee.

Nick realizes that he won’t be welcome in Vegas much longer and needs to get out. DeMarco will be gunning for him and if he wants to make his dream of retiring to Corsica, he’d better get hopping. However, there is the thing that has been keeping him in Vegas so long – his gambling addiction. And on a night when so much is riding on it, he can’t afford for Lady Luck to be fickle.

Considering that this is essentially a Direct-to-VOD production, the talent before and behind the camera is pretty impressive but if you look at the budget below, you immediately understand that this was never meant for that sort of release. Why Lionsgate gave up on this project is beyond me; it’s actually surprisingly good for the genre and even though it is certainly flawed it deserved better for an unpublicized excuse me theatrical release.

For one thing, you get Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman supplying the script based on his own novel. Goldman excels in character development and each role here is definable and has at least some sort of personality to it. Given the stellar nature of the cast and that some of them only have a scene or two here, it’s no wonder that they were attracted to these parts which are more than stunt cameos.

West, who has such genre fare as Con-Air and The Expendables 2 on his resume, is usually pretty dependable for films in the action genre and surprisingly (yes, I’m using that word a lot here) this is pretty light on the action as action films go, but that’s a good thing in this case. Rather than going from one fight scene to the next, there’s actual dialogue, some of it pretty damn good. There’s also exposition and a genuine story. For film critics used to seeing action films which are just an excuse for people to shoot lots of big guns, chase around in cars and generally give people the opportunity to watch big men beat the hell out of one another, that’s like rolling ten sevens in a row.

I’ve always thought Statham was more than just a tight-lipped martial arts action hero. He actually can be quite soulful and when given the opportunity to act, has done so particularly well. Mostly though he seems content to accept roles in which he is given little to do beyond beating people up. Don’t get me wrong, he’s very good at it and usually his movies are entertaining but they are little more than that.

Here he gets an opportunity to do more and he takes advantage of it. Definitely this is a reminder of how good Statham can be in the right role, and given that he has a high-profile villain role in the upcoming Furious 7 gives me even more reason to look forward to that movie. He has nice chemistry with Hope Davis as a heart-of-gold blackjack dealer, as well as Angarano as a rich guy who believes himself a coward.

The oddball thing here is that the action sequences are the weakest aspect of this movie. That’s surprising (there’s that word again) given West’s action pedigree. Had a little more time and care been devoted to them I think this would have been released into theaters and maybe would have been the same kind of action hit that John Wick was last year.

Instead we end up with a movie that had enormous potential and remains an entertaining diversion but doesn’t do anything that pushes the envelope which is a shame. I think the movie’s slow start – things really don’t pick up until about 40 minutes in – also doesn’t do it any favors.

While the blackjack sequences are realistic and Davis (or her body double) gets the moves and attitude of a blackjack dealer just right, we also lose something in the fight choreography which is business as usual with the exception of the final fight in which Statham takes out a bunch of baddies with a butter knife and a spoon, not to mention slicing open a bad guy with a credit card. I also like that we get kind of a local’s point of view to Vegas. Still, with just a little more imagination when it came to the fight sequences this might have been something special.

REASONS TO GO: Entertaining but not groundbreaking. Realistic on the blackjack sequences.
REASONS TO STAY: Starts off slowly. Fight sequences are just adequate.
FAMILY VALUES: As with most Jason Statham movies, plenty of violence and cursing, some sexuality and brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: William Goldman wrote the script based on his novel, which was filmed once before as Heat starring Burt Reynolds back in 1987. This is Goldman’s first script in eleven years.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/16/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 29% positive reviews. Metacritic: 40/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Safe
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Wild Target


Wild Target

Rupert Grint, Bill Nighy and Emily Blunt drag another critic into a screening kicking and screaming.

(2010) Comedy (Freestyle) Bill Nighy, Emily Blunt, Rupert Grint, Rupert Everettt, Eileen Atkins, Martin Freeman, Gregor Fisher, Geoff Bell, Rory Kinnear, Duncan Duff, Graham Seed, James O’Dee, George Rainsford, Alexis Rodney, Sia Berkeley. Directed by Jonathan Lynn

 

A professional hit man must be cold, ruthless and absolutely without mercy. There must not be an ounce of remorse inside them, not even a trace of empathy. They must be able to take a human life with the same dispassion that the rest of us take a shower.

Rose (Blunt) doesn’t know any of that however. She’s a con artist, using her considerable feminine wiles to defraud wealthy art investors by selling them forgeries. She’s managed a good deal of success at it – at least she hasn’t been caught – mainly because she has a lot of the same qualities as an assassin i.e. the complete lack of regard for her victims.

That’s all about to change as she winds up cheating the wrong guy – in this case urbane mobster Ferguson (Everett) who doesn’t take all too kindly to being made a fool of. In his case, he really can’t afford it so an example must be made and Ferguson being who he is doesn’t believe in half-measures. He hires Europe’s most efficient and successful assassin – Victor Maynard (Nighy).

Victor comes from a long line of hit men and professional killers. His supportive but wheelchair-bound mum (Atkins) keeps a scrap book of his hits, which she affectionately gives him on the occasion of his 55th birthday. This most recent job looks to be a piece of cake. However, once he get Rose in his sights, things happen – improbable, unpredictable coincidences save her from certain death and more to the point, Victor finds himself increasingly unable to pull the trigger on the comely young Rose.

He decides to shelter his would-be victim, particularly since Ferguson has hired Hector Dixon (Freeman), a ferocious and sadistic killer who is eager to supplant Victor as the number one assassin in Europe, as a back-up plan. Hector takes being number two very personally and sees the successful murder of Rose as a means of taking the crown away from Victor. And if Victor is hit by a stray bullet or two, so much the better.

Along for the ride is Tony (Grint), a bartender who is tired of the publican life and becomes Victor’s protégé after a fashion. Victor, however, is still trying to sort out his feelings for Rose which he can only do if he keeps her alive, which is no easy proposition with all the firepower Ferguson has hired to put her six feet under.

British director Lynn has had some success (My Cousin Vinny, the British TV series “Yes, Minister”) but he also has a few less successful efforts (The Fighting Temptations, Sgt. Bilko) to his name as well. This isn’t quite as bad as his worst but not as good as his best either.

One thing he’s done is assemble a marvelous cast. Nighy usually tends to be in supporting roles; this is one of his few leads and he proves himself more than up to the task. His arch delivery and Victor’s supercilious nature remind us that Nighy is as adept at comedy as anybody in Britain. There was never a moment where I got bored with his character.

Blunt has been rising through the ranks over the past few years in becoming one of the more appealing leading ladies in film. Although this isn’t really her best work, it’s mainly because her character is such a sociopath – and it doesn’t seem to bother anybody. It’s the reaction to her behavior by the other characters that make her own character less believable, not Miss Blunt’s performance.

Freeman whose career is about to receive a major boost with his appearance as Bilbo Baggins in the upcoming Hobbit trilogy is usually kind of cute and cuddly onscreen but here he’s a raging lunatic for whom inflicting pain comes as naturally as breathing. It shows some versatility on his part I wasn’t aware he had, always a good thing. The veteran character actress Atkins is delicious as Victor’s mom and Grint continues to show that he’s much more than Ron Weasley.

The issue here is that it’s supposed to be a gangster comedy along the lines of The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight but it’s more along the lines of Stop or My Mom Will Shoot. It’s humor mostly derives from slapstick murder attempts that go horribly wrong, with a few feeble one-liners thrown in for good measure. Considering how good the cast is, it’s pretty disappointing they weren’t given better material to work with.

With the vicious Hector in pursuit, the movie can get kind of brutal in places but it seems curiously out of place to be honest. This is a badly uneven effort that takes a premise which we’ve seen before and does nothing new with it. Certainly it has some moments that work nicely and the performances are worth checking out but if this isn’t high on your list of movies to check out it there’s no need to add it there.

WHY RENT THIS: Nighy, Blunt, Freeman and Atkins are all worth watching.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Wastes some good performances with a weak story. Lacks laughs.

FAMILY VALUES: It does get a bit violent in places and there’s some content that’s definitely sexual. The language gets rather raw briefly.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Based loosely on the French film Cible emouvante.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s an interesting featurette which is an interview with Blunt as she deciphers the history and motivations of Rose, or at least her interpretations of them.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $3.5M on an $8M production budget; unfortunately this didn’t quite recoup its costs at the box office.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Grosse Point Blank

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Queen of Versailles