That tension in Nick Wild’s beefy shoulders, that resignation in his squinty, tired eyes, is meant to hint at his dream to sail the waters off the coast of Corsica. Or maybe his frustration more accurately reflects Jason Statham’s own: at William Goldman’s screenplay for not allowing the Las Vegas bodyguard the actor plays to dream a little more. (Why Corsica? is a question that immediately lingers—and remains unresolved by film’s end.) When it behaves as a noir riff, focused on Nick’s propensity for doublespeak and the seemingly duplicitous façade of his dealings with clients and friends with passive-aggressive burdens, Wild Card shows promise as a study of the existential perils of everything in Sin City—or is it Capitulation City?—being so goddamned veiled. Everything in the story is a transaction or negotiation, and the repeated show that’s made of Nick’s honesty, such as his refusal to accept more wads of cash than are owed to him for a job, seemingly sets audiences up for a long con. No such luck.
Though director Simon West’s drab style insists only on complete transparency, the realization that Holly (Dominik García-Lorido) isn’t fooling Nick when she asks him to help her get back at the thug, Danny DeMarco (Milo Ventimiglia), who raped her still comes as a letdown. Once she’s understood only as a half-hearted imitation of a femme fatale, and the ever-peacocking DeMarco’s promise of revenge a given, Wild Card comes out as a redux of The Gambler, with Nick blaring his inability to quit betting while he’s ahead. At which point the film makes the laziest sprint toward the last step in his recovery—precipitated by his absurdly unlikely bromance with a rich little dweeb (Max Casella) who wants nothing more in the world than to grow a pair. Every time the film comes close to confronting one of the half-dozen wish-fulfillment fantasies from which the story is stitched, it bets against nuance by discordantly indulging in shows of action-movie pyrotechnics that succeed only at reinforcing West’s macho bona fides and condescendingly forcing Statham back into his wheelhouse.