Published Jan 19, 2012As we speak, every action script rejected by Angelina Jolie (since Wanted) and Jennifer Garner (since Elektra) is being sent over to former MMA fighter and American Gladiator Gina Carano. As he did with former porn star Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience, director Steven Soderbergh (Contagion, the Ocean's films) has built a quality movie around a performer who has a unique perspective on the material, but lacks acting experience.
Buff and tough Carano plays ex-Marine Mallory, a contractor for a private firm specializing in "delicate" operations, such as rescuing a North Korean dissident from captivity in a Paris safe house. She does so at the behest of boss Kenneth (Ewan McGregor, struggling through an American accent) and his shady cohort, Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas, with a beard that makes him look like Mandy Patinkin). But when the results of Mallory's "rescue" look a lot more like a set-up for shady dealings with unsavoury interests, Mallory seeks her revenge by playing along with further plans only to demolish them (and a cafe, hotel room and several cars) from within.
Haywire's framing device has Mallory already paranoid when she meets a former colleague (rising "it" boy Channing Tatum) ostensibly to debrief, only to have him try to crush her head against a diner counter. She nabs a car and its owner and takes both on a joyride through the American Northwest, giving her a convenient moment, and audience, for exposition.
Haywire is a functional and straightforward spy thriller in the vein of the Bourne movies ― skilled insider finds themselves without allies trying to bring down powerful forces they were once apart of ― but Soderbergh makes several smart decisions. First, because Carano is clearly a fit, skilled fighter and more than physically capable, it undercuts the discomfort of having large men repeatedly beat her with fists, lamps, coffee pots and sundry random objects. ("Don't think of her as a woman. That would be a mistake," McGregor's Kenneth cautions at one point.)
He takes the "Keanu Reeves" approach of action directing and puts her physicality ahead of her dialogue ― although Carano acquits herself well in the dialogue moments, this isn't Shakespeare. And finally, he surrounds her with a great supporting cast that includes Michael Douglas as a maybe shady government insider, Bill Paxton as her "atta girl" supportive dad and current hot property Michael Fassbender as a suave client who, it turns out, also wants to smash her pretty face.
Bad signs ― like a January release date and a general lack of hype and attention ― point to Haywire being a midwinter studio dump, but with skilled supporting actors, a terrific director in Soderbergh and a kick-ass woman who can both roundhouse kick and, refreshingly, refuse to rock a high-slit low-cut evening gown for eye-candy's sake, Haywire is rockin' fun and the first punch from a new action star. (Alliance)