I wanted to rave about Steven Soderbergh’s latest, an attempt at the action/spy genre called Haywire. I really did. The film has a lot of things going for it: a solid, respected director, a refreshing lead actress and a potential breakout performance from MMA cutie Gina Carano, a veritable “who’s who” of the best veteran male actors in Hollywood making up the ensemble supporting roles, and good-to-great buzz from scenes screened at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con. But when the credits rolled, I felt Haywire was just a few punches shy of really making me see stars.
The plot was surprisingly basic for how confusing it was to follow at times, boiling down to typical revenge movie fare with a bit too much name dropping and flashback exposition. Covert op merc Mallory Kane (Carano) is set up by her handler/jaded ex-lover Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) along with a group of dangerous higher-ups from various countries including Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas. She proceeds to hunt them down while trying to clear her name. During her exploits the audience is treated to some stellar hand-to-hand combat alongside some less inspired foot and vehicle chases (look for the deer cameo… no seriously. It’s random and unintentionally hilarious).
When the opening fight sequence began I was ready to buckle in for an insane action ride. It caught me off-guard and was brutal and visceral and immediately sucked in the screening audience. Frustratingly, the fight scenes are spaced out and not as numerous as you’ll surely desire once you get a taste of them. But Soderbergh brilliantly turns off his hipster jazz musical score during all combat scenes and allows the blunt sounds of the fight to give you the chills. Particularly good is the disturbingly realistic brawl between Carano and Michael Fassbender early in the film as they utterly destroy their hotel room in the process.
Part of the fun of the film is watching as it unveils a new recognizable actor in just about every major scene change for the first hour of the film. None of the actors particularly phoned in their performances, but in the same respect I didn’t feel like anyone’s A-game was brought for the film either.
Far too often it feels like you’re waiting too long to get back to the movie’s bread and butter: Carano throwing down. I appreciate the desire of Soderbergh to build tension by using looong shots of Carano running or slowly evading capture on foreign city streets. The slow burn tactic works wonderfully when you have a lead actor with the appropriate gravitas and acting chops like Matt Damon but not with the inexperienced likes of Carano. The tactic was overused here and slowed the movie down too much – this is only a 90 minute movie people.
Despite its shortcomings, Haywire is still a very successful debut for Carano. The formula Soderbergh came up with was perfect: take two parts Bourne, add a little Ocean’s Eleven style for good measure, mix in an A-list supporting cast and pepper with minimal speaking lines and no demand for emotional acting, shake thoroughly and voilà! She’s a believable box office action star. Carano’s MMA background is also put to good use as she looks scarily badass when throwing punches and using take-down moves on her enemies. Her character takes quite the beating throughout as well, adding to the toughness and believability of the role.
Part of what sells Carano is her extremely rare balance of femininity and beauty while being physically intimidating enough to make any guy think twice about messing with her. And thank goodness for that balance, because she shows the emotional range of a bored rock in this film. Carano is visually striking but little more than that in the non-action scenes. Her line delivery isn’t terrible, but it’s so robotic that it becomes a bit unsettling. Skynet has done well with its latest model – it seems almost alive. All joking aside, you seriously can see Carano flipping the personality switch on and off during this film, just like a Terminator, and that’s not what was intended.
Haywire is at times a slick very stylish action film, but it could have used more of the action and less of the style. The highlight of the film is the second fight of the movie and nothing tops it from there on. Those wanting a more mindless action film might find themselves being a little put off by this one. In the hands of lesser director it could’ve been a direct-to-DVD mess, but Soderbergh expertly coaches a solid enough debut from Carano. This movie will surely raise her star-level and I’d like to see her take on some more roles in the future. What the audience is left with is a pretty well-made action flick that you can’t help feeling could have been better.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10
I pretty much agree with everything Kyle says here. While her physical presence is astounding, Carano is severely lacking in the performance department, and even an experienced director like Soderbergh couldn’t cover up her obvious inexperience. The fight scenes are phenomenal, but there are far too few of them, and far too many extended takes of Carano staring at someone, or riding in the backseat of a police car, or doing any number of mundane activities that the audience could care less about. If this movie had played to Carano’s strengths and minimized her shortcomings, it could easily have been a massive success – as it stands, it’s a decent attempt, but certainly nothing spectacular.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10