In terms of its title, "Haywire" doesn't quite go there; it's more "Haywire-ish." But it's eccentric, and the on-screen violence is sharp and exciting -- brutal without being either subhumanly sadistic or superhumanly ridiculous.
Director Steven Soderbergh had an idea to showcase the serious, muscly agility of Women's Mixed Martial Arts star Gina Carano, without a lot of digital this or stunt-double that.
Early in the picture, special operative Mallory Kane, played by Carano, is being set up for a double cross and suspects as much. She meets her colleague, played by
Channing Tatum, in a roadside diner. Soderbergh noses in close to Carano's face. There's not much dialogue, just a few cryptic lines about their duplicitous boss, and missions undertaken in
Then, just when we're getting frustrated with the inside baseball, Carano bites her lower lip in such a way as to explain why, on YouTube, you can find a clip titled "Gina Carano Lip Bite -- Hot!" And then Tatum socks her in the head, hard. Two minutes later, after some crisply but simply staged viciousness (kicks, punches -- you can see why Soderbergh has said he wanted to work with Carano because "she can break people in half"), Mallory runs out of the diner with a hostage and Tatum's character stays behind, in a heap.
If Lem Dobbs' script were a little snappier, or a little less zigzaggy, "Haywire" would be a first-rate B-picture instead of an interesting one. But even with its limited narrative payoff, the film's appeal remains blunt and consistent. Carano (whose voice was altered -- lowered to a menacing purr -- in post-production) takes care of business with Tatum, and then with Michael Fassbender (who plays another operative), and then Ewan McGregor, as Mallory's ex and overseer. She beats the hell out of everybody. Carano may not be a born or a natural actress; she is, however, an undeniable and heartening rebuke to the skinny-Minnies Hollywood favors over real women with curves.
Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas offer neat little portraits in untrustworthy authority, even though with a gun to my head I couldn't relay to you who was doing what to whom, and to what end. How does the plot tie everyone together? Not very elegantly: Unfolding mostly as an extended illustrated flashback, while Mallory and her hostage (Michael Angarano) drive, drive, drive, "Haywire" shows what happens when dumb venal men (government security contractors and various killers) underestimate smart vicious women who do not like to be framed for murder.
Soderbergh may be making a globe-trotting revenge thriller, but he's a genial subversive by temperament, and part of Soderbergh's impulse involves undercutting and redirecting audience expectations. Shot as usual by Soderbergh himself, using lightweight, efficiency-plus digital equipment, "Haywire" may lack in story terms what its star so obviously can throw anytime: a punch. Yet Soderbergh, ever the scamp, manages to spice up a routine vehicular chase sequence (in the snow, in the woods) with the funniest sight gag of the year, involving ... well, you won't see it coming, and you won't hear anymore about it from me. And when Carano gets slammed into a good-sized flat-screen TV, because it looks real-ish and it's photographed in a single medium shot, you actually feel sorry for the TV.
"Haywire" Movie Trailer
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