Haywire (review)

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Gina Carano in Haywire

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.

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Sat, Sep 01, 2012 7:43am

I liked Haywire!  I get where you are coming from where this starts to feel like a job rather than an adventure, but that is kind of why I liked it.  She worried about the folks that helped her or that she had connections with and she took care of the rest.  Gina Carano is going to be my gym motivation for a long time from this flick…  I hope they make more with her.  (I also want more Salt albeit with Michael somehow resurrected.)

John Smith
John Smith
Sun, Sep 09, 2012 3:34am

i just checked to see if you reviewed Haywire.  Man, what a great movie.  i love soderbergh..  the limey is the kind of movie i sit down to watch literally once every few months.  it’s that good.  i predict carano will be a force in the future.  she is credible as an action star, just as much so as a jet li, statham, etc.  she was 7-1 as a professional MMA fighter and her fights were the ones to watch.  sure, her acting needs a little work, but it’s not BAD.  she is not sophia coppola in godfather III (imo, the worst casting decision in the history of cinema) for example.  and she is substantially better than Ahnold was when he started out.  Soderbergh also recognizes her limitations and the movie is designed around her being competent but not meryl streep (or angelina jolie).

i had a crush on carano, the first time i saw her fight.  and she was good in the Fight Science series too (spinoff of Sports Science).  Let’s face it, she’s beautiful and her entire body IS trained as a weapon.  And it shows.  She moves like an athlete.  I liked Salt (and Wanted), but there is no comparison in the poise and natural body awareness (kinesthetic awareness) and proprioception of an elite athlete like her compared to an actress like Jolie.  You can’t learn that for a movie.  It’s who Carano IS.  As somebody with a fair amount of MA training, it’s just instantly recognizable.  And credible.

I also agree.  She definitely has stage presence.  She has IT

I remember when I first saw the movie “hackers”.  Remember that?  that was the first time I saw Angelina Jolie.  I had no idea of her pedigree, who she was, etc.  I just said “Man, she’s going to be a star”.  It was that obvious.

I am NOT saying Carano has that level of presence, but the camera definitely loves her

Thu, Mar 27, 2014 12:48pm

I see that Carano’s in another movie…In The Blood…trailer looked good, and it also has Luis Guzman in it (who I love watching)…is it on your list to review?