Friday, January 20, 2012

Woman on the Verge: “Haywire” Features Some Cool Fights but Not Much Else

Sometimes sports stars – wrestlers, fighters, basketball players, etc – make good transitions to film. Of course, by good I mean, they get audiences in the seats but critics are forced to watch movies like “Kazaam” or “The Tooth Fairy.” But sometimes, just sometimes, these people find just the right material. Now it’s time for a female to find a role that makes people question her acting abilities. Gina Carano, a Mixed Martial Arts star (who also appeared as Crush on the new and short-lived American Gladiators) stars in “Haywire” as a black ops super soldier. She fights a lot and mostly kicks dudes’ asses which she’s rather good at – although I’m skeptical whether she could ever play a role that doesn’t require her to punch and kick.

Steven Soderbergh has been rather busy for a man who has declared that he’s retiring from filmmaking. I feel like I’ve just seen a Soderbergh movie recently. And that’s true because the pandemic thriller “Contagion” was released just this past September and he has three movies slated for release within the next two years. Soderbergh uses his trademarked low budget look on “Haywire” which sort of feels like an independent version of “The Bourne Identity.” It still features an all-star cast – Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton, Channing Tatum, Ewan McGregor, and the “I’ve been in every movie this year” Michael Fassbender. It remains a great showcase for some new female kickass talent and Carano is certainly up to the task, although I still don’t think she has the necessary charisma and acting ability to be a breakout star.

“Haywire” doesn’t really add anything new to the assassin thriller. Carano is Mallory and as the films opens she seems like something horrible has happened and she must try to clear her name. She has a pretty impressive fight scene with Channing Tatum and it’s wonderfully choreographed. Soderbergh refuses to go in for close-ups and doesn’t shred the sequence to death with quick edits. Of course in this scene – once you realize that Mallory is pretty much guaranteed to always get the upper hand, you never quite feel that she’s in much danger. Soon we learn about what lead up to the encounter as she explains her dilemma to a young guy who she’s just carjacked. We learn she’s been double crossed by the guy who runs the independent firm she works for. Lots of fights ensue.

If there’s any real reason to see “Haywire” it’s to witness what Soderbergh does with this type of material. It’s material we’ve seen countless times, however in the hands of a guy who’s not afraid to do something different it feels more fresh. It’s interesting to see his choices and how he stages certain sequences. While other filmmakers would choose to shake the camera and barely show you anything, Soderberg actually lets the actors do the work. After all, you don’t hire an MMA fighter and then not show her doing what she does best. By doing so Carano can do what I assume is most if not all of her own stunts. But like I said, I don’t think she’s completely capable of carrying the entire film. I found her to be rather bland and her mediocre line readings didn’t quite help. And I found myself strangely unengrossed in her dilemma – and that’s probably because I never felt she was in that much danger.

“Haywire” offers some good fight choreography –the sequence with Carano and Fassbender is particularly impressive. Soderbergh remains a fascinating director and can always gather an impressive cast. The film is something to check out if you like less traditional action thrillers, but otherwise this feels like an art house “Bourne” movie and nothing more. GRADE: C+

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