By Joe Bendel t is not exactly a critic’s dream

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By Joe Bendel 

t is not exactly a critic’s dream 

come true, but it rises to one 

of our frequent challenges. We 

oft en lament studios’ remaking of clas-

sic movies, making them considerably 

worse, rather than redoing and hope-

fully improving less-than-great fi lms. 

Th at sort of happens here when Jason 

Statham steps into a role originated by 

Burt Reynolds. It’s already sounding 

better, isn’t it? In fact, Statham is much 

more convincing as the lethal bod-

yguard with a gambling problem in 

Simon West’s “Wild Card.”

Like the somewhat notorious 1986 

fi lm “Heat,” “Wild Card” was adapted 

by screenwriter William Goldman 

from his own novel. On the screen, it 

follows much the same structure, but 

off -screen, hopefully there will be far 

less litigation. 

Nick Wild has an uneasy truce with 

the mafi a. He stays on good terms with 

the mega-connected Baby, but for the 

most part, he does not bother them 

and they do not bother him. Most of 

his jobs are a little demeaning, like 

babysitting nickel-and-dime gambler 

Cyrus Kinnick, but he keeps hoping 

to hit it big at the tables and run off  to 

Corsica. (It was Venice before.)

Th is equilibrium is disrupted when 

a visiting gangster brutalizes Holly, a 

prostitute Wild was formerly involved 

with. She wants him to get the creep’s 

name so she can pursue legal action. 

However, Wild wants no part of any-

thing connected to the Golden Nug-

get, which must be thrilled to be so 

explicitly identifi ed as a mobster 


Of course, as a good guy, Wild can’t 

help himself. Despite his hesitation, 

he lays quite a beating on the entitled 

Danny DeMarco and his henchmen 

and facilitates their further humilia-

tion at Holly’s hands. From there, one 

thing leads to another.

“Wild Card” has a handful of spec-

tacular fi ghts (choreographed by Cory 

Yuen), sprinkled throughout long 

stretches of compulsive gambling 

and macho brooding. Th e gimmick 

for Wild (or Nick “Mex” Escalante, 

as he was once known) is his facility 

for using commonplace items, such as 

credit cards and poker chips, as deadly 


Needless to say, this works so much 

better with Statham than Reynolds. 

Dominik García-Lorido (Andy Gar-

cia’s daughter in the excellent “Lost 

City” and in real life) and Stanley Tucci 

also represent considerable upgrades 

as Holly and Baby, respectively. 

Indeed, the casting is nearly perfect 

this time around. Unfortunately, the 

Kinnick character still gums up the 

works with his unnecessary subplot.

Unlike the previous fi lm’s revolving-

door battery of directors, West keeps 

“Wild Card” moving along at a decent 

clip, even though it is more about gam-

bling and gangster power games than 

action, per se. He also maintains a rel-

atively upbeat mood, nicely under-

scored by some classic licensed blues 

and R&B tunes from artists like Magic 

Slim, Albert King, and Charles Brown. 

It still isn’t perfect but it is better, 

which is something. You could even 

say it’s not bad—but nowhere near 

Statham’s best work in “Th e Bank Job” 

and “Redemption.” 

Joe Bendel writes about independent 

fi lm and lives in New York. To read 

his most recent articles, please visit

‘Wild Card’

Jason Statham

Happens in Vegas

Jan. 30–Feb. 5, 2015



‘Mortdecai’ Overdoes Innuendo, Under-Delivers



Director:  David Koepp

Starring:  Johnny Depp, 

Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan 


Run Time:  1 hour, 46 minutes

Release Date:  Jan. 23

Rated:  R

By Stephen Dalton

LOS ANGELES—Any film cred-

ited with its own “mustache wran-

gler” really should have been much 

more fun than Johnny Depp’s lat-

est misfiring action-comedy.

Mostly set in contemporary 

England, but aiming for the zingy 

retro feel of a vintage Peter Sellers 

or Terry-Thomas feature from the 

Swinging Sixties, “Mortdecai” is 

an anachronistic mess that never 

succeeds in re-creating the breezy 

tone or snappy rhythm of the clas-

sic caper movies that it aims to 


Despite a heavyweight cast and 

the solid directing skills of A-list 

screenwriter David Koepp (“Juras-

sic Park,” ‘‘Panic Room,” ‘‘Spi-

der-Man”), this charmless farce 

ends up as another black mark 

on Depp’s recent track record of 

patchy pet projects.

“Mortdecai” is based on the first 

in a series of irreverent comic nov-

els by Kyril Bonfiglioli, a British 

author of Italian and Slovenian 

heritage. Published in the 1970s, 

the books chronicle the amoral 

antics of aristocratic British art 

dealer Lord Charlie Mortdecai 

(Depp), who is aided on his drink-

sodden adventures by his thuggish 

but resourceful and sexually irre-

sistible manservant Jock Strapp 

(Paul Bettany).

Depp plays Mortdecai as a 

human “Looney Tunes” char-

acter, a snobbish playboy nar-

cissist so enamored of his comi-

cally absurd new mustache that 

he risks driving his disapprov-

ing wife, Johanna (Gwyneth Pal-

trow), to divorce. Teetering on the 

brink of bankruptcy in his grand, 

stately home, the disreputable gap-

toothed rogue spots a chance to 

escape financial ruin when a rare 

Goya canvas goes missing after a 

lethal robbery. 

Grudgingly recruited for his 

art-world expertise by suave 

MI5 agent and longtime love 

rival Alistair Martland (Ewan 

McGregor), Mortdecai jets off 

around the globe on a mission to 

find the stolen painting and exploit 

the priceless secret rumored to be 

hidden on its reverse side.

Depp is known for channeling 

real role models into his charac-

ters, often drawing on his musi-

cian heroes, most famously Keith 

Richards in the “Pirates of the Car-

ibbean” movies. In his accent and 

mannerisms, Charlie Mortdecai 

appears to owe a heavy debt to the 

small-screen creations of Depp’s 

friend, the British TV comedian 

Paul Whitehouse. 

Depp has previously guested 

on Whitehouse’s long-running 

BBC sketch comedy “The Fast 

Show,” and frequently offers him 

supporting roles in his film pro-

jects, including this one. Here he 

plays Mortdecai’s colorfully foul-

mouthed car mechanic, who also 

has a shady sideline fencing sto-

len artworks.

“Mortdecai” is stuffed with star 

names and classic farce ingredi-

ents, but its fatal flaw is an almost 

surreal lack of jokes. The main 

players spend almost every scene 

mugging desperately for the cam-

era, milking every possible low-

brow sexual innuendo and clumsy 

slapstick mishap in novice screen-

writer Eric Aronson’s thin script. 

Ironically, these overcooked per-

formances are often more hin-

drance than help when the occa-

sional funny line arises.

While Depp’s fruity Eng-

lish accent is palatable enough, 

McGregor’s smarmy approxima-

tion sounds forced and uncon-

vincing. Only Paltrow emerges 

from this farrago with any real 

acting credit, playing Johanna 

with straight-faced understate-

ment while all around her are los-

ing their heads.

On the page, Mortdecai and 

Strapp are clearly uncouth cousins 

of P.G. Wodehouse’s “Jeeves and 

Wooster.” On screen, their boorish 

mannerisms and retro attitudes 

owe more to “Austin Powers.” 

But while Mike Myers found 

rich humor in the gap between 

a chauvinistic past and politi-

cally correct present, much of 

the labored comedy in “Mort-

decai” relies on dated stereo-

types unredeemed by any hint of 

post-modern irony. Women are 

insatiable nymphomaniacs who 

enjoy being groped, Americans  

vulgar materialists, Brits upper-

class dimwits, and so on. These 

caricatures are too crude to be 

offensive, but also too stale and 

lazy to be funny.

The final set piece, which takes 

place at an upmarket London 

art auction house, brings all the 

characters and subplots together 

in an orgy of cartoonish violence 

and triple-cross deceptions that 

quickly becomes tiresome. For all 

its minor offenses against taste and 

decency, the sole unforgivable sin 

that “Mortdecai” commits is one 

that would leave its rakish antihero 

aghast. Because the film that bears 

his name is ultimately a frightful, 

crashing bore.

From The Associated Press via The 

Hollywood Reporter

                                       ‘Wild Card’

              Jason Statham    

   Happens in Vegas   







By Joe Bendel 


t is not exactly a crit-

ic’s dream come true, 

but it rises to one of 

our frequent challenges. We often 

lament studios’ remaking of clas-

sic movies, making them considerably 

worse, rather than redoing and hopefully 

improving less-than-great films. 

That sort of happens here when Jason Statham 

steps into a role originated by Burt Reynolds. It’s 

already sounding better, isn’t it? In fact, Statham 

is much more convincing as the lethal bodyguard 

with a gambling problem in Simon West’s “Wild 


Like the somewhat notorious 1986 film “Heat,” 

“Wild Card” was adapted by screenwriter Wil-

liam Goldman from his own novel. On the screen, 

it follows much the same structure, but off-screen, 

hopefully there will be far less litigation. 

Nick Wild has an uneasy truce with the mafia. 

He stays on good terms with the mega-connected 

Baby, but for the most part, he does not bother 

them and they do not bother him. Most of his jobs 

are a little demeaning, like babysitting nickel-and-

dime gambler Cyrus Kinnick, but he keeps hop-

ing to hit it big at the tables and run off to Corsica. 

(It was Venice before.)

This equilibrium is disrupted when a visiting 

gangster brutalizes Holly, a 

prostitute Wild was formerly 

involved with. She wants him 

to get the creep’s name so she can 

pursue legal action. However, Wild 

wants no part of anything connected to 

the Golden Nugget, which must be thrilled 

to be so explicitly identified as a mobster resort. 

Of course, as a good guy, Wild can’t help him-

self. Despite his hesitation, he lays quite a beating 

on the entitled Danny DeMarco and his henchmen 

and facilitates their further humiliation at Hol-

ly’s hands. From there, one thing leads to another.

“Wild Card” has a handful of spectacular fights 

(choreographed by Cory Yuen), sprinkled through-

out long stretches of compulsive gambling and 

macho brooding. The gimmick for Wild (or Nick 

“Mex” Escalante, as he was once known) is his facil-

ity for using commonplace items, such as credit 

cards and poker chips, as deadly weapons. 

Needless to say, this works so much better with 

Statham than Reynolds. Dominik García-Lorido 

(Andy Garcia’s daughter in the excellent “Lost City” 

and in real life) and Stanley Tucci also represent 

considerable upgrades as Holly and Baby, respec-

tively. Indeed, the casting is nearly perfect this time 

around. Unfortunately, the Kinnick character still 

gums up the works with his unnecessary subplot.

Unlike the previous film’s revolving-door bat-

tery of directors, West keeps “Wild Card” mov-

ing along at a decent clip, even though it is more 

about gambling and gangster power games than 

action, per se. He also maintains a relatively upbeat 

mood, nicely underscored by some classic licensed 

blues and R&B tunes from artists like Magic Slim, 

Albert King, and Charles Brown. 

It still isn’t perfect but it is better, which is some-

thing. You could even say it’s not bad—but nowhere 

near Statham’s best work in “The Bank Job” and 

“Redemption.” For fans of old-school Vegas, “Wild 

Card” opens this Friday, Jan. 30, in New York.

Joe Bendel writes about independent film and lives 

in New York. To read his most recent articles, please 



‘Wild Card’

Director:  Simon West

Starring:  Jason Statham, Michael 

Angarano, Dominik García-Lorido

Run Time:  1 hour, 32 minutes

Release Date:  Jan. 30

Rated:  R


Johnny Depp appears in a scene from “Mortdecai.”


Jason Statham stars as Nick Wild in “Wild 

Card,” an updated version of 1986’s “Heat.” 







B1  February 5–11, 2015




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