Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

A not-very-good film, followed by a not-very-good film

There's a kind of dispiriting film called Wild Card (2015). It's an odd-toned, often morose Jason Statham vehicle with a surprising history: it's based on a three-decade-old script by the sometimes-great William Goldman. You know his work even if you don't recognize his name: Goldman's breakout hit was 1969's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, he wrote novels that he often made into films (like The Princess Bride and the thriller Marathon Man), and has scripted such movies as All the President's Men, Misery and Absolute Power. (He's also done uncredited rewrites, on such films as Twins, Last Action Hero (really), Dolores Claiborne and more.)

In the mid-Eighties, Goldman wrote a crime novel called Heat, about a Las Vegas bodyguard who wants out of Vegas but stays and impulsively gambles, and got it made as a movie in 1986 (also called Heat; no, not the great Michael Mann film), but: it was made badly. According to Goldman, it went through a bunch of directors (he said there were six! Wikipedia claims the first one was the great Robert Altman, but he quit on Day One), and he kept rewriting it per the requests of each different director, at least one of whom had no business directing and was asking for especially dumb revisions. (Goldman said that director wanted to show a transition between scenes, a transition that Goldman expected could be done with a single edit, by showing the character leaving an office at one location, driving through Vegas, arriving at the other location, getting to the other office, then going on with the story; meaning the director wanted several shots of what's called "shoe leather" that would add nothing to the film.)

Follow-the-bouncing-directors aside, the film got finished (starring Burt Reynolds and Peter MacNicol), but from what I hear isn't very good.

FAST-FORWARD. Then, surprisingly, earlier this decade, the original screenplay finally got made as a Jason Statham vehicle (which Brian de Palma almost directed!), practically the same as what William Goldman scripted in the mid-Eighties. It was retitled Wild Card because, again, that Michael Mann film, plus Jason Statham's character is named Nick Card.

But it's not very good. Passable, at best. I watched the film (which was finally directed by Con Air's Simon West) last night on the Hoopla app on my tablet. OK, I've seen it. And mainly I think how it was the first produced William Goldman script since he and Lawrence Kasdan co-wrote that messy, bad film version of the messy, bad Stephen King novel Dreamcatcher. That film came out in 2003. Kasdan is apparently still in "director jail" after that; he hasn't directed a feature since, though his star's re-risen with his work on the new batch of Star Wars films. As for William Goldman, I wonder if he is simply retired.

If he is, there's a chance the weird, not very good Wild Card would be his last produced work, which feels a little wrong for someone who's written so much good stuff. Kind of how his last published novel, the Marathon Man sequel Brothers — which is a bonkers book, with a climax where walking bombs shaped like young boys show up in political chambers then explode, killing something like a third of the world's leaders in one fell swoop — came out in 1986, with no new novels since. (And based on the one chapter that's been published of it, I'm not yet convinced that the unfinished Princess Bride sequel novel Buttercup's Baby is anything but a deeply meta joke.)

This has been, in its weird way, an appreciation of William Goldman.

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