Secret Agent Meh
We’ve seen this movie before. A helluva lot. Secret agent/gun for hire/covert badass gets burned. Who did it? The bad guys? The colleagues? The boss? Our Hero has to work hard and fast to pull his own ass out of a fire not of his making, get back at them what hurt him, and restore his good name if he can.
Except in Haywire, Our Hero is Our Heroine. This is not completely unprecedented; we had, most recently, Angelina Jolie as an all-running, all-jumping, all-blowing-stuff-up CIA agent in Salt in 2010. What is new here is how uncompromisingly credible Gina Carano is as “private contractor” — read: “freelance, not federal, badass” — Mallory Kane. A former mixed martial artist, Carano actually looks like she’d be able to, say, beat the living shit out of Channing Tatum and Michael Fassbender, as she does here. She’s tough, she’s strong, she’s cool and competent… she’s not rail-thin like Hollywood dictates female movie stars should be. It goes without saying that she’s gorgeous and looks fantastic onscreen, but she also looks capable in a way that action movies rarely allow women to look. And given the fact that she hails from the reality-TV realms of American Gladiator — and not, you know, the Lee Strasberg studio — she acquits herself competently, too, when she’s not kicking the stuffing out of some poor dude who got in her way.
So there’s that: I like this Mallory Kane chick. And this is Soderbergh! Love his stuff! Reteaming his The Limey screenwriter Lem Dobbs, Steven Soderbergh (Contagion, The Informant!) unmistakably set out to make a Jason Bourne movie, something funky and stylish and exciting and postnational — it’s international intrigue without politics mucking it up — and give it his own unique spin. And not only with a Carano in the lead.
It all starts off as kickass as Mallory, with a job extracting a Chinese whistleblowing journalist who’s being held hostage in Barcelona. Gosh, and there are long stretches here that play almost like a silent movie, with no dialogue. We’re left to presume what’s passing between Mallory and her team, including Tatum’s (The Eagle, The Dilemma) hired muscle — and we do see that they’re talking to one another — because Dobbs and Soderbergh know perfectly well that we know the clichés, and know precisely what’s going on. Instead, what speaks are sounds such as Mallory’s breathing as she runs down a bad guy through the streets and alleyways of the city.
We also know, however, that Barcelona didn’t go down the way it was supposed to — though we don’t know, at first, quite what did happen — because much of the story unspools in flashback, as Mallory, on the run from the burning and toward salvation, is telling her tale to Scott (Michael Angarano: The Art of Getting By, The Forbidden Kingdom), whom she nice-kidnapped from a failed rendezvous with that salvation because he had a car, the better to continue running with. (Ha! Another gender switch: the accidental sidekick girl along for the ride is a guy here.)
But: it starts to fall apart after Barcelona not just for Mallory but for us, too. There’s a lot of fight in Haywire, but very little punch — it starts to feel very grim and plodding very soon, as if Dobbs and Soderbergh soon realized they were spinning their action-flick wheels and that it wasn’t very much fun. The humorlessness becomes relentless, and then arduous — a movie called Haywire should have more energy, more exuberance than this. There no sense of play to be found: the big, big names Soderbergh hauled in all seem to be sleepwalking through their roles. Ewan McGregor (Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, The Ghost Writer) as Mallory’s boss; Bill Paxton (Thunderbirds, Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over) as her ex-Marine dad; Michael Douglas (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Solitary Man) as a shadowy federal wonk; Antonio Banderas (Puss in Boots, The Skin I Live In) as the Barcelona connection; Fassbender (X-Men: First Class, Jonah Hex) as an MI-6 operative — they all seem to weigh down the flick, and be weighed down by it.
A bit of flash, and a female badass: these are the only things Haywire ends up with to distinguish it from a slew of similiar revenge flicks. But that’s not enough.