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Gina Carano in a scene from "Haywire" (Claudette Barius)
Gina Carano in a scene from "Haywire" (Claudette Barius)

Movie review

With Haywire, Soderbergh dutifully crunches the action formula Add to ...

  • Country USA
  • Language English

There’s a popcorn-spitting funny slapstick moment in Steven Soderbergh’s mischievous trifle Haywire, where Gina Carano, the amazonian brunette, is in her cocktail dress, with Michael Fassbender’s head squeezed between her thighs so hard his face looks like a grape about to pop. It’s not clear whether we’re supposed to pity or envy him.

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Anyone who has watched sixties and seventies exploitation flicks with stars like Pam Grier or Russ Meyer’s muse, Tura Satana, knows audiences enjoy powerful-looking women beating the stuffing out of bad guys. Haywire is Soderbergh’s 25{+t}{+h} film in a diverse career (though actually finished before last fall’s Contagion) and it’s such a self-conscious genre exercise it should probably be enclosed in quotation marks, as his “girl action” film.

Carano, a mixed-martial-arts star, makes her film debut as the lead in this all-star, all-male cast (Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Matthieu Kassovitz, Antonio Banderas, and Ewan McGregor as sundry spy types). She stars as Mallory Kane, a black-ops agent working for a private contractor (McGregor). Like so many agents in recent films, she gets betrayed by her superiors and is set on a path of vindication. Screenwriter Lem Dobbs ( Kafka, The Limey) offers one clever twist on the formula with a flashback structure.

After being assaulted at a rural New York diner, a young woman demolishes her attacker and hijacks a car from a startled young owner named Scott (Michael Angarano). As she drives away, she tells the young man what has led her to this moment. It started with a job in Barcelona, where Mallory was contracted to rescue a Chinese dissident journalist. Directly thereafter, she was sent to Dublin, as the “eye candy” escort to a MI6 operative, Paul (Fassbender), posing as half of a jet-setting power couple.

After an elaborate set-piece in a mansion where Mallory finds evidence that the Barcelona assignment was a fraud, things between her and Paul culminate in the hotel-room battle. Realizing she has been set up, Mallory barely has time to demolish an Irish SWAT team before heading back to the United States to seek explanations and vengeance.

Then the flashback comes to an abrupt end during a police chase through the forest (along with an unfortunate woodland Bambi). She abandons Scott with instructions to get her story out, and heads off to join her father (Bill Paxton) in his sprawling modernist mansion. A former marine who’s now a Tom Clancy-style novelist, Dad lets Mallory use his home as the theatre for her next series of take-downs.

Serving as his own director of photography under the pseudonym Peter Andrews, Soderbergh picks his angles artfully and allows Carano to demonstrate her arsenal of acrobatic fighting tricks in extended, no-cheating single takes. The fight scenes are music free, the better to appreciate the thwacking and grunting. In between, David Gross’s funk-jazz score enhances the vintage feel.

Soderbergh has explained that his idea was to have Carano “beat her way through the cast” of men, who do what they can to lend juice to their two-dimensional characters. The question of whether Carano can actually act is moot. It’s enough that she has a commanding presence, and two good expressions – warily friendly or glaring, which makes her like a much prettier Charles Bronson.

Her one distinctive actress-like skill in the film is her smoky, cocktail lounge voice, though that turns out to have been digitally altered to sound more alluring. Hand it to a wily indie veteran like Soderbergh to find a fresh twist to an old genre: The fighting isn’t faked, but the acting is.

Haywire

  • Directed by Steven Soderbergh
  • Written by Len Dobbs
  • Starring: Gina Carano, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas and Bill Paxton
  • Classification: 14A
  • 2.5 stars


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