Still no cinemas open in these parts and so what can one do but catch up on things one has been meaning to do: beard-sculpture, perhaps, or some other form of self-mortification. Or one could do something genuinely joyous (quiet at the back) and finally catch up with one of the Jason Statham films still missing from the list: such as Simon West's Wild Card.
This film was released in 2015, at the point when Mr Statham was in the process of upshifting from being the star of a string of mid-budget hard-core action thrillers to someone who participated in genuinely big blockbusters – various films in what Ye Post Editor apparently refers to as the 'damned ampersand' franchise, but also things like The Meg. A lot of these later films saw Mr S trying his hand at something a little different, and Wild Card is no exception.
The movie opens with a long sequence set in a Las Vegas bar, where a young woman (Sophia Vergara) is repeatedly hit on by Statham himself, who is playing an obnoxious and slightly threatening drunk. This is a bit more of a modulation on the standard Jason Statham Character than usual, and as the sequence goes on (and on) one does begin to realise that Statham really is trying hard to sell this performance as someone who is much less obviously sympathetic than his normal character (even in those rare movies where Statham has turned out to be the villain, this is a plot twist and doesn‘t require special Bad Guy Acting from him) . Could it be that this is a film where he is genuinely going to try and do the thespian thing?
Well, the situation resolves itself with Mr Statham being soundly trounced by Vergara's boyfriend (Max Casella), much to her delight (suffice to say there is a reveal later on which feels like it owes something to P. G. Wodehouse), and we're off into the rest of the movie, which is a little bit lighter on its feet but often much darker and more intense in its tone.
In this movie J-Stat plays Nick Card, a freelance 'security consultant' based in Vegas: basically a bodyguard with a somewhat chequered background (is he supposed to be British or American? The other characters seem unsure and, as usual, Statham's accent is all over the place). He dreams of getting enough money together to leave the States and live on a boat in Corsica, but so far these are just dreams and he has other things to worry about.
Card's latest client is Cyrus (Michael Angarano), a tech millionaire in his early twenties, who just wants to be shown the sights and kept safe while doing so: this is less than a source of undiluted joy to our man, especially as the lad may have an ulterior motive. A more personal matter has also arisen, as a young woman of his acquaintance (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) has been sadistically misused and badly beaten up by a minor underworld figure (Milo Ventimiglia). She wants Nick's help in finding him; what will ensue once she know where he is is left unsaid, but it seems unlikely to be pretty nor to involve a call to the police department. (This is another movie where Statham has charged relationships with women from his past but there’s no real sense of romance: this is the kind of thing which leads to all that unlikely ‘gay icon’ talk.)
As you can perhaps tell, the opening sequence is a touch misleading, as Wild Card eventually settles down to Jason Statham playing the same character as usual: the cynical, slightly world-weary veteran fighter, living by a code of honour but still very, very dangerous when the situation demands it. However, what's not misleading is the fact that this is primarily a film about Jason Statham acting.
Perhaps it's a bit unkind to put it quite that way: let's say instead that Wild Card is a bit of an outlier in the Statham canon in that it is a character piece rather than a straightforward action stomper. Do not panic, fellow aficionados: there are still several sequences of Mr S in full flow, including one where he bashes his way through half a dozen people in a casino bar which is as good as anything else in his back catalogue. But the emphasis is much more on who Nick Card is and what's on his mind.
Is he just a bruiser with a sentimental streak where his friends are concerned, as the film initially seems to be suggesting? Or is this just a cover for something else? Midway through the film he finds himself riding a string of lucky breaks, a winning streak that gives him the opportunity to realise all his dreams – if he has the guts to follow it through. Or could it be that Card is basically just a dreamer whose natural yellow streak will cause him to sabotage himself and keep him from ever getting anywhere in his life?
Thankfully, the script (William Goldman adapts his own novel – although apparently this is one of those scripts which floated around for decades until Statham acquired it) isn't too heavy handed about any of this and Statham isn't required to do anything especially removed from his usual line of country. The result is essentially a fairly solid crime drama, which, while it does contain a couple of outstanding fight sequences, isn't defined by them. The presence of a strong cast helps too (Stanley Tucci appears briefly as a senior underworld figure), especially as many of them are permitted to carry scenes and shine. (One sequence involving Garcia-Lorido, Ventimiglia, and some garden shears is particularly tense and rather uncomfortable to watch.)
And, in the end, Jason Statham doesn't disgrace himself in this movie. It's not the fastest or lightest or most spectacular of his own films, just as it isn't the most distinguished or impressive crime drama ever made. But as a coming together of the two, it is quite satisfying and an interesting change of pace. Whether we see anything else of this ilk from the great man in future is an open question; but it suggests he does have potential to transition to a slightly slower and more thoughtful kind of movie at some point.