Though "Haywire" is made out of the usual leaps in logic that most action-thrillers are, director Steven Soderbergh finds an exciting new action star in Gina Carano and fills the screen with creative fight choreography, making for an intriguing old-school thriller heavy on the stunts and light on the special effects. Even if "Haywire" doesn't exactly reinvent the genre, it does give us a fun little popcorn movie that's more than a compilation of tough talk and explosions, which is always welcomed this time of the year. We may be a long ways from Soderbergh's great films like "Traffic" and "Sex, Lies and Videotape," but there's a lot to like about a well-crafted adrenaline-pumper with a good hero and a decent story.
Even with all the usual elements in place, "Haywire" just never feels like a run-of-the-mill thriller, which is hard to do in commercial moviemaking these days. It all starts with U.S. black ops agent Mallory Kane, played by Mixed Martial Arts star Gina Carano as a no-nonsense tough girl who has been around the block in the shadowy game of espionage and governmental dirty work.
One of the very best in the business of undercover violence, Mallory ends up on the outside looking in when she foils a plot on her own life, making her reevaluate who she can trust. It doesn't take long for audiences to get the picture that Mallory is no one to be trifled with, and soon she's thrust into the middle of a labyrinthine mess as she tries to figure out who is on whose side inside secretive organizations in which no one seems to really know the score. Following the popular "Bourne" series, "Haywire" does have a similar tone and takes some time to make Mallory's covert world feel at least somewhat plausible, even if stretched by exaggeration.
Though the plot turns out to be fairly complex, with many interested parties working their own angles, it all really comes down to Mallory vs. the world, and Carano is a natural action star who does most of her talking by simply looking the part. The days of big, slow bruisers like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone seem to be just about over and Carano fits well into an action world in which you need to look more like a real marine and less like that guy at the gym whispered to be on cattle steroids. In her first role, Carano does a fairly convincing job at getting through the dialog, but Soderbergh and screenwriter Lem Dobbs wisely keep the dialog concise and let her get back to beating up the guys blocking her from discovering the truth.
Soderbergh also does an excellent job of casting around Carano and uses well-established actors to his advantage, including Antonio Banderas as the likeable but enigmatic foreign correspondent, Michael Douglas as the stern project overseer, and Ewan McGregor as the shadowy dweeb pulling strings behind the scenes. Even the very limited Channing Tatum is well-cast as the hulking but naïve agent who crosses paths with Mallory.
But what separates "Haywire" from the mundane thrillers is the way that the action is approached. Though convention is to stage action with a series of quick cuts and reaction shots, Soderbergh goes out of his way to give us lengthy shots that show Carano and company actually engaging with one another. An important trick in movies is to get the audience to forget they're watching a movie, even for a second, and "Haywire" manages to do that because it rarely looks like the action is being slapped together in the editing room.
Quentin Tarantino masterly showed martial arts fans what they've been missing with his similar approach in making "Kill Bill," and here we get another interesting martial arts heavy film that reminds us that there's a nearly lost art in on-screen fight choreography. Even if "Haywire" isn't the same caliber of film as Tarantino's martial arts homage, it still plays by many of the same rules and the action sequences are all the better for it.
For a filmmaker who has made a couple handfuls of excellent indie films that have broken from the Hollywood formula, it's always nice to see Soderbergh trying something new and he manages to remain true to form even in the most rigid of genres. "Haywire" is a film that doesn't hint around the fact that it's an action movie but also isn't willing to be confined to playing by the conventional rules. And even without a single other theatrical release to her name, Gina Carano proves that she can tumble with any of the other leading female action stars of the day.
by RTT Staff Writer
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