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The Oscar-winning director of Traffic, Steven Soderbergh, tries his hand at an action film.  Haywire is the filmmaker’s two-fisted B-movie bedecked in a few A-list trappings.

Mallory is a mercenary; an ex-Marine fixer-for-hire who is very good at what she does.  Mallory’s skills are so redoubtable that those seeking her company’s services will cancel a contract rather than pursue it without her.  Still, all good things must come to an end, and Mallory’s decided to wind down her dangerous career.  Unfortunately, on her last mission, Mallory’s stainless reputation has been compromised with a suspicion of treachery.  Mallory is accused of setting up the murder of someone she was meant to secure and all the resources of her old mercenary outfit, as well as some black-ops government agencies set out to bring her in for a quiet word.

The entire motivation for Haywire seems to be the director’s discovery of mixed martial arts champ, Gina Carano.  Carano is an amazing specimen of a woman; beautiful, fit, strong and completely believable in every action sequence, which might be because it’s all based on stuff she can probably do in real life.  Watching her chase an adversary halfway across Barcelona then whoop the stuffing out of the poor unfortunate was exhausting.  I felt like I lost weight just sitting in my seat.  The fight fan in me was overjoyed watching Carano hook the back of a bad guy’s head with her foot and slam his cranium into the nearest table.  Forget all those skinny supermodels and vacuous starlets, Carano is a woman other women should want to emulate.  I couldn’t help but question why the lady hadn’t been cast as Wonder Woman?  Why isn’t she Black Widow in The Avengers movie instead of that scrawny Johansson chick?  I’d actually believe Carano’s fight scenes.  Pity then that not as much time seems to have been given to training Ms. Carano in how to believably put her lines across as in how to put the stunts over.  While a pleasant screen presence even when she’s not throwing large men across a room, Carano delivers her dialogue in a flat monotone that at her most emphatic sounds like a kindergarten teacher placating an overexcited child.  

Back on the plus side, the character of Mallory is refreshingly unstereotypical and Carano perfectly fits the mould of a sharp, well-organised leader, who does what -- and who -- she has to do to get the job done.  She brooks no insolence from her underlings, but lays the hammer down with tact and charm.  Mallory is a woman who likes being a woman, not a woman either playing at being a man or acting the harpy in order to command, which is something we don’t see often in fiction.  This, besides Carano’s indubitable martial arts skills are the best aspects of Haywire, which is lacking in so many other areas.  The pacing of Haywire is frustrating; long stretches of unimaginative, warmed-over double-cross about who set Mallory up and why, followed by all-too intermittent adrenalin-raising scenes of Ms. Carano doing her thing, which is again followed by long stretches of nothing.  The MacGuffin, or the plot device that’s the reason for the entire film, isn’t remotely intriguing in the end.  With all the jolting ups and downs, the movie actually feels longer than 93 minutes.  There’s no character development mostly due to an anemic, underdone script.  Outside of Michael Douglas’ fruitless attempts to lift the energy level in his few moments, there’s a strange element of underacting through the whole film from its top-shelf cast, including Ewan McGregor and Antonio Banderas, who appear to be phoning it in; sleepwalking through their scenes.  Even Michael Fassbender’s appearance in a towel (Apparently the actor’s post-Shame mandatory uniform) and later between his co-star’s thighs in a very different manner to his last movie, only makes the pulse jump for a second.  

The audience might have sleepwalked through much of Haywire, as well, if not for the cacophonous din of the Quincy Jones-ian jazz horns that blare relentlessly throughout the picture.  One reckons they were installed to not only wake the viewer during slow moments, but to put them more in the mind of some 1970’s cop show than a 21st-century feature by a celebrated auteur.  The score, like many elements of Haywire feels like other things we’ve visited before from Soderbergh; the strange, urine-coloured filters he uses to make the film look more seedy, the house where a big showdown takes place looks like the back-up location for Peter Fonda’s estate in The Limey. 

There’s a lethargy to the production that pervades the film and makes one sad for the efforts of Ms. Carano, whose physical exertions and grueling stuntwork are very real.  Soderbergh never sustains any momentum to make those well-choreographed action sequences really pay off; there is too much disconnect in the tension and energy levels between the scenes.  That lack of cohesion can be jarring and some of the choices the director makes are downright weird: One such moment shows Carano with co-star Michael Angarano as she drives a car backwards through some woods, culminating in an extended shot of the pair facing the audience until they suddenly stop (a decision enforced by the abrupt appearance of a special guest star).  The projected background in their windshield is moving while the two are obviously sitting still in a cutaway prop.  The scene is weirdly lengthy and inexplicably cheesy-looking, perhaps either as homage to the B-movieness of the piece or just plain laziness.  Either way, the affectation throughout hobbles what should’ve been a really fun popcorn movie. 

Flat and disjointed, Haywire’s hook seems purely to be about showing off the wonderfully brutal talents of Gina Carano, which deserve a far more energetic and inspired vehicle than this.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

Jan. 18th, 2012

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Relativity)

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