Sadly, the first film scripted by William Goldman to hit theaters since the anus-monster mess Dreamcatcher is no return to form, and this time, there’s no ass-obsessed Stephen King book to blame. Goldman’s script adapts Wild Card from his own 1985 novel Heat, a Las Vegas noir in which a tough with a gambling problem rents himself out to folks who need muscle — and, on the side, runs into lots of friends whose problems can only be solved through his skills weaponizing any sharp object he happens to clutch. Don’t mess with him if he’s got cutlery!
Director Simon West’s film doesn’t improve much on the 1986 version, the Heat that’s not Michael Mann’s, but star Jason Statham proves a more credible improv-killer than Burt Reynolds did. Overstuffed and distractible, this episodic redo feels like a couple episodes of some Showtime series stitched into a feature: One story builds to another, and then to another, which then connects back to an earlier one, season-finale style, all while Statham checks in, again and again, with a couple regulars. The star is compelling in scenes that give him room to breathe and brood, but the pacing’s often off, with dopey slo-mo, cuts that come too quickly, and the habit of restlessly vaulting from the moment we’re watching to another not-especially-surprising moment to come a couple breaths later.
Statham is stuck with so much expository dialogue, he’s like an unofficial narrator: At the tail end of an incomprehensible montage sequence in which his tough guy wins hundreds of thousands of dollars at blackjack, he has to set up the high-stakes final hand by saying, “If I win, I’m over 500, and that’ll be the last you hear of me.” That winning spree, like the fights, is so divorced from even a heightened Vegas-movie reality that I kept hoping it would be revealed to be a dream.