Haywire (***)

There’s really nothing in Steven Soderbergh’s new film ‘Haywire’ that you haven’t seen in other “man on a mission” action adventure tales. The gimmick here is just that the man is a bad ass woman this time around, and she does her own stunts to boot. Armed with Soderbergh’s  somewhat unusual directorial choices for the genre, and this unoriginal story is done in an original enough light that this is a successful piece of cinema. Soderbergh cast non-actress and real life (now retired) MMA star Gina Carano in the lead, and while her acting won’t win her any awards, she’s an incredibly believable action star and the fights are given an extra measure of realism. You’re actually watching her tangle with these guys (many of whom are well known actors, which doesn’t hurt things at all), and there’s something pleasing about that. The film still has a bunch of plot holes and is essentially a high class B movie, but it does its job quite well and I have no qualms about recommending it. I have no doubts that you’ll certainly get your money’s worth, just maybe check your brain at the door. You’ll be pleased that you did…

The film follows Mallory Kane (Carano) a soldier for hire who is seeking some brutal payback after being set up and having an attempt made on her life during a job. She’s telling her tale to a nice kid named Scott (Michael Angarano) who assists her in an escape from a fellow agent named Aaron (Channing Tatum) who was sent to bring her in. Most of the film is flashbacks to the jobs that led her to the upstate New York diner where we first meet her. In Barcelona, a job doesn’t quite go as expected, and after that her boss/former lover Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) sends her on what should be an easy mission in Dublin. Her contact there Paul (Michael Fassbender) double crosses her and attempts to kill her. She fends him off in stunning fashion and goes on the run. Her ultimate target is Kenneth, but she wants to know his connection to a government agent (Michael Douglas) playing all sides and a pair of shadowy figures (Antonio Bandaras and Mathieu Kassovitz). All along the way, she kicks a lot of ass and avoids capture. It’s not an original flick, but it is an entertaining one.

While Gina Carano has limitations as an actress, this is the perfect type of part for her. She’s an action hero come to life, and watching her do all of her stunts is a lot of fun. When it comes to the non action parts, she’s fine, but nothing special. Honestly though, did you expect any different? I know that I didn’t. Carano certainly has a future in the business, and I think it might be a good on. The rest of the cast makes use of their smaller parts and leaves the best impression they can. Doing the best work are the two Michaels, Angarano and Fassbender. They aren’t in the film too long, but they’re memorable. Both Ewan McGregor and Antonio Bandaras are suitably evil, while Channing Tatum and Michael Douglas show some interesting shades of grey. Also on hand is Bill Paxton as Mallory’s military man dad, and he’s fine as well. The cast is A list and turns in solid work, but they all know the type of film that they’re in and they act as such. You won’t be disappointed, but don’t look for the Academy to honor anyone for this.

Steven Soderbergh’s direction is a real asset here. The script by Lem Dobbs has its share of plot holes and is almost more befitting a direct to DVD title than an A-list filmmaker’s, but Soderbergh makes it work. His shot selection, color desaturation, and other quirky choices elevate the material, which could have brought the film down. The flick’s only real issue is that it actually doesn’t do enough with Gina Carano’s physical abilities, but that could just be me trying to squeeze more from the work. Perhaps I should complain about a good thing. Anyway, if this is one of Soderbergh’s last films, he’s at least making sure he doesn’t do the same things he’s already done. This is a hybrid flick, a bit more offbeat than you’d expect from a studio offering (which could harm its box office hopes), but still a solidly mainstream action movie. It’s not Soderbergh exactly doing one last film “for them” before finishing with movies “for him”, but it’s not too far from that either.

Overall, ‘Haywire’ is a good time at the movies and better than its January release date suggests. Audiences have settled for far less in year’s past when it comes to early year action flicks, so one hopes they recognize this as the quality work that it is. It’s not perfect, but it is fun, and I think anyone who sees it will leave the theater satisfied. I for one hope that Gina Carano is the next big female action star. We could certainly use one…

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