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Statham plays Nick Wild, a "security consultant" who works in the Las Vegas area, playing bodyguard to high-rollers worrying about their jackpots getting jacked. He's not the most successful guy, sharing a small, crummy office with a smarmy lawyer (Jason Alexander) and living out of a hotel. His modest dream is to rack up $500,000, which he's calculated will be enough for five years in Corsica, far away from it all, sailing a nice boat. When his former girlfriend Holly (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) comes to him after being raped by a mysterious man and brutally beaten by his bodyguards, he isn't particularly interested in dipping his toe into the city's criminal underworld in order to help her settle the score, but she pressures him into it, setting off a chain reaction of events that will involve Holly's target Danny DeMarco (Milo Ventimiglia), a meek young kid named Cyrus (Michael Angarano) looking to hire Wild, and the city's unusually kindly crime lord Baby (Stanley Tucci).
At a glance, the character of Holly may seem like a regressive role that was better suited to the 1980s than to 2015, but West and Garcia-Lorido find an interesting line to tread in regards to her character, painting her no differently than any other person out for revenge. To succeed, Holly believes she needs Nick's help, but it's not a scenario where he fights her battles for her. Not only does she know from experience she can't fight the bodyguards, but it's the opposite of appealing for Nick, who will not automatically grow or change by helping Holly, only get into a mess of trouble. Not only does Holly play an active part in the payback she deserves, but she's promptly given a ticket out of harm's way, leaving Nick to pick up the pieces. A line of Nick's pinning responsibility on Holly is a little distasteful, but Statham plays it more like frustration than actual victim-blaming, and West does not spend too much time on the scene of Holly being dropped off at the hospital or extremely brief flashbacks to her attack, acknowledging the brutality without exploiting it.
Afterward, Nick is left to wrestle with his own desire to self-sabotage as he ends up at the casino on a winning streak, with Cyrus peering over his shoulder and the ticking clock of retribution hanging over his head. The story trajectory through these beats is unusual and unexpected, but that sense of anticipation gives the film an interesting energy. It helps that Statham gives one of his better performances here, offering a nice subdued, scruffy charm in scenes with Angarano, or Hope Davis and Anne Heche in small roles as, respectively, a dealer and waitress who are friendly with Nick. Along with Stanley Tucci, it's a nice ensemble cast of folks one wouldn't necessarily expect to see opposite Statham, but each one peels back a layer of his action-movie persona to reveal the somewhat goofy British everyman underneath. Although none of them except Angarano have much time to build up a character, each one forms a really enjoyable rapport in their brief screen time, feeling lived-in and authentic.
Of course, there is still some action in Wild Card, and it's surprisingly stylish. Although some of his lesser efforts have not inspired much confidence (I'm looking at you, Tomb Raider), Simon West approaches the film's three action set pieces with a nice style that emphasizes clarity in addition to intensity. The first one, brought on by DeMarco's intense sliminess (Ventimiglia does an excellent job living up to the skin-crawling character description of a guy who looks at his junk and says "The envy of all mankind") is a well-timed bit of slow-motion hyper-violence, while the next is a more traditional beat-down that gets its oopmh from lightning-quick (but not too-quick) moves, generally involving throwable objects, like ashtrays. The final fight in the movie splits the difference, jumping back and forth between speeds while bringing back the extra splatter. Despite making up only a small portion of the movie, it's some of Statham's best action work in years.
Between all of this, Wild's character journey can get slightly short-changed, but the way Goldman's script or West's execution doesn't twist his conflict out of proportion gives the film a satisfying simplicity. Nick may have DeMarco and all the muscle in Vegas looking to pummel him for his actions, but it's Cyrus who grasps Nick's real problems. It's hard not to wish the film were a bit longer, allowing the characters to have meatier conversations, but it's a testament to both actors that when Cyrus does stand up to Nick, the moment works. The film's ending may not land with the effectiveness that one might hope for, but that low-key cool is in keeping with the movie's overall aesthetic.
Wild Card arrives on Blu-ray with a gaudy glossy foil slipcover designed to catch the eye with its shiny surface and bright colors -- kinda like Vegas. Both the slip art and identical sleeve art feature an image copied from the theatrical poster, although I can't say the unnecessary white line down the background (nearly obscured in this slightly cramped version) makes any sense on either. It's nothing special but stylish enough, I guess, and I appreciate that they didn't Photoshop out a little detail that many might not entirely notice until they've watched the movie. The one-disc release comes in an eco-friendly Viva Elite Blu-ray case, and there is an insert with a code for an UltraViolet Digital Copy.
The Video and Audio
In what (based on the commentary) is an attempt to emulate a filmic appearance (the opening credits are shot on actual film), the 2.39:1 1080p AVC presentation on this Blu-ray is a bit on the soft side. In dark scenes, I find the effect quite pleasing to the eye, offering a nice, detailed appearance with fine colors, but featuring a visible layer of grain, with slightly shallow but still solid shadows. During the day, on the other hand, the softening quality of the visuals can look a little like a technical deficiency of the transfer, creating skin that looks smeary and glow emanating from brightness that seems more like bleeding. More of the movie takes place indoors in the dark than outside in bright morning light, so on the whole the presentation is appealing, but there are definitely some caveats.
The soundtrack is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which, like the film, is subdued for much of the running time, but really comes to life when the movie kicks into high gear in the action scenes, which are very stylized, with big thunderous bone-cracking effects and explosive punches, as well as quite a bit of extreme splatter. Music is also especially lively as well, namely the number of Christmas songs peppered throughout the soundtrack. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and English and Spanish subtitles are also provided.
A couple of extra features are included on this disc. First up is an audio commentary by director Simon West. Nothing against West, but given Wild Card was one of Jason Statham's side projects for about five years before it was made into a movie, it's a disappointment he doesn't appear on this track alongside the director. West does a decent job by himself; although there are periods of silence throughout the track, when West does have something to say, he's very articulate and informative, speaking at length about what changed from the script to the screen, and how his choices were meant to enhance details about Statham's character. Non-essential, but anyone who's interested will probably find the track worth a spin.
A couple of brief video features round things out. The imaginatively-named "Script Vignette" (5:17) is ostensibly a brief bit of history on Goldman's screenplay, but it's mostly a round of praise by the cast and crew about Goldman's skill as a writer and the pleasures of playing their characters. "Original Sin: Las Vegas and the Characters of Wild Card" (16:26) is the more generalized making-of featurette, talking about the story and what Vegas brings to the movie. It makes the mistake of putting the posters for All the President's Men and Wild Card one right after the other in a little montage -- I liked the movie, but let's not go overboard. It also treads some lines when talking about the character of Holly which betray the film's ability to slip around those sketchy bits. Both featurettes are clip-heavy, and although neither are as deathly promotional as some I've seen, neither is really that interesting. Both are in HD.
Trailers for The Expendables 3, Redemption, Son of a Gun, The Captive, and a promo for Epix play before the main menu, and are also accessible from the special features menu under "More from Lionsgate." No trailer for Wild Card is included.
EDIT (4/7/2015): While surfing online streaming retailers, I discovered multiple outlets offer an "extended cut" of Wild Card running 107 minutes, a full 10 minutes longer than the Blu-ray's 97-minute feature presentation. The disc is curiously free of deleted scenes despite the cuts that West mentions in his commentary, yet there is no option to watch this version of the movie on the disc. Although the extras warranted a low score to begin with, it's disappointing that this alternative version isn't available to those who buy the movie on Blu-ray.
Those who enjoy the slow-burn cool of 1970s detective movies and won't mind the movie's disinterest in pausing every ten minutes for an action sequence might find they enjoy Wild Card, which lands on the right side of grungy and is surprisingly well-made. It's far from a classic, but more than worthy for a Saturday night -- better than can be said of a disappointing number of Statham's recent vehicles. Recommended.
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