"Isn't there someone you should be calling, to bring help?"
Steven Soderbergh is no stranger to hiring fresh and experimental choices for his leads. In 2008, it was--now retired adult film star--Sasha Grey for THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE. For his latest, HAYWIRE, Soderbergh found Gina Carano from the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) world. The director has long been known for his eclectic choices, so it's no surprise that he's finally behind the lens for his first pure action film.
The story revolves around Mallory Kane (Carano), a government agent that will rescue and/or kill on command. In between, there's plenty of punching and kicking involved--evidently a Kane specialty. The film is in its infancy when Mallory battles fellow operative Aaron (Channing Tatum) in a small-town diner. Faces are smashed, arms are broken, but Mallory escapes, thanks in part to Scott (Michael Angarano), some normal dude just trying to enjoy a coffee in a booth.
You see, Mallory is trying to quit the spy-game, but her boss and ex-lover Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) has other ideas, and double-crosses her. Now she's running from the people she used to chum around with. The narrative is one we've seen many times over: someone is wronged, then spends the rest of the time exacting their revenge on the parties responsible.
I've mentioned the fisticuffs involved, and it's there aplenty. This plays perfectly into Carano's background. She began fighting professionally in 2006 with the MMA, a league filled with knockouts and chokeholds. Carano is beyond capable in that regard. It's actually quite refreshing to see a woman whose landed blows are believable enough to inflict real damage. More often than not movie heroines are of the waifish variety (see: Zoe Saldana), making it almost comical when they knock out an opponent with an uppercut.
While Carano excels during the physical exhibitions, the moments when she must chew some dialogue are wooden at best. Thankfully, Soderbergh has surrounded her with a competent cast: Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton, and the aforementioned McGregor. Fassbender in particular stands out. His and Carano's hotel fight scene is brutally effectual.
As with his OCEAN'S TRILOGY, Soderbergh uses the opportunity to film in a series of exotic locales. In a more curious decision, David Holmes' (another Soderbergh staple) score is a puzzling one. Ringing similar to the OCEAN films, it's more quirky and happy-go-lucky than HAYWIRE should be perceived. It's quite startling actually, how much in contrast the two styles are, especially during the pieces when Mallory is avoiding capture, running over rooftops in Dublin.
The well-choreographed clashes are something to behold, but the pure absurdity of the majority of delivered lines and asinine plot devices (a low-speed car chase, in reverse, that ends with hitting a deer?) prove that while Soderbergh is a marvel at many things, there is plenty for him still to learn. I like seeing bad guys getting clobbered as much as the next guy. But once they're down, it'd be nice to still be entertained.