Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire is far from perfect, but it has two things really going for it: Mixed Martial Artist Gina Carano, who kicks all sorts of ass in her starring debut as a mercenary Mallory Kane, and some brutally effective action choreography, which (in this day of shaky-cam, rapid-fire editing) make the fight scenes refreshingly coherent and hard-hitting.
It’s a little disappointing, then, that the writing in Haywire doesn’t quite live up to the filmmaking. While the action feels fresh and new, the story – especially towards the ending, as all cards are put on the table – comes off as conventional.
That’s especially surprising given that Haywire was written by Lem Dobbs, who previously collaborated with Soderbergh on Kafka and The Limey (which might be my favorite film from the director).
Haywire, conceived and executed like a straight B-picture, might be Soderbergh’s most accessible work since the Ocean’s films (that’s ironic, since audiences seemed to reject it with a D+ CinemaScore rating). Carano’s Mallory Kane is a no-nonsense agent working for a government-contracted organization who discovers that she’s been double-crossed. Predictable results follow.
The opening sequence sets the tone for the movie; in a small-town diner, Kane waits for a contact who turns out to be Aaron (Channing Tatum). After some inconsequential conversation, what occurs next blindsides the audience: Aaron throws a cup of coffee in her face and begins to pummel this (seemingly) defenseless woman.
Of course, Kane isn’t defenseless. She makes quick work of Aaron using the kind of raw physical power that’s shocking (but oh-so-satisfying) to see coming from a heroine. The film isn’t particularly violent (at least, in terms of bloodletting), but the frequent male-on-female violence – and the brutal way in which the fisticuffs have been filmed – makes some scenes difficult to watch.
Much of Haywire is told in flashback, as Mallory relates her story to Scott (Michael Angarano), who helped her out in the diner. This spices up the storytelling up a bit – the film is a sparse 85 minutes – but while the individual action scenes work just fine, the jumpy narrative tends to deflate overall story tension.
Carano needs no introduction among MMA fans, but will be an unfamiliar face for mainstream audiences. To compensate, Soderbergh has packed the cast with A-listers: Bill Paxton as Kane’s father, Ewan McGregor as her boss, Michael Douglas as his government official, Antonio Banderas as his contact, and Michael Fassbender as an MI6 agent.
Few of them, however, have much to do. Banderas, in particular – who really soars with this kind of material – has disappointingly little screen time, but the look on his face at the finale is priceless.
Carano, acting-wise, is able to hold her own against this superstar cast; a little stiff, perhaps, but she suits the character just fine. On the action side, Tatum and Fassbender manage to hold their own versus Carano, while McGregor comes up short – though to be fair, his character doesn’t have their skill sets.
Racing through upstate New York, Dublin, and Barcelona, Haywire’s script may leave something to be desired, but the action scenes more than make up for it. This is a guilty pleasure that gives a first taste of our next big action heroine.