Haywire (2012)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 1/20/12
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Bill Paxton, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas

If you can look past the sluggish pacing, awkward narrative, and some major lapses of logic, "Haywire" is a pretty awesome film. Mallory Kane (MMA champion Gina Carano) is a highly skilled special ops contractor who does jobs that the government would rather avoid. After being sent to Barcelona on a rescue mission, she is set up and betrayed, and must use all of her talents to clear her name and get some payback. It's a familiar action film plot, but specially tailored as a star vehicle for Ms. Carano.

First of all, Gina Carano is utterly fantastic and a female action lover's dream girl. She handles her action scenes with expert skill and intense conviction, and has the confidence and physicality to back up her actions. She is rough and tough, and can take as much abuse as she dishes out. The fight scenes are raw and brutal, and painfully hard hitting. The choreography is quite good in that Carano's moves are flashy enough to look interesting, but grounded enough to look realistic. I was also impressed by how balanced the fight scenes were with regard to the size difference between Carano and her opponents. This, coupled with the absence of any critical strikes creates a lot of dramatic tension and allows the give-and-take flow of the duels to play out longer, which I really appreciate. The cinematography and editing are also impressive, and the fight scenes are shot in long and wide shots that allow you to see everything. This no-nonsense approach is something you rarely see in domestic films and it makes a world of difference. Another huge win in the fight scenes is the complete absense of attitude, posturing, or dialog. It's all business when the fists and kicks start flying, and even the music score drops out so that you can focus entirely on the physical drama and its collateral impact. Very nicely done. The chase scenes are also very grounded and realistic, and even though there aren't any fancy parkour moves or wire assisted stunts, Carano's endurance and physical grace are wonderful to watch.

While Carano definitely has the action chops down, I was also impressed by how well she plays up her feminine side, which completes the complex duality that I love so much about female action characters. She's a fabulous package just waiting to explode. She is a decent enough actress, which is all the film requires. Her fierce eyes and clenched jaw speak volumes, and her super sexy voice is both soothing and commanding.

Unfortunately, the film's overall execution is a bit lacking, and the sluggish pacing really drags it down. I'm sure the intent was to create tension and an atmosphere of paranoia, but it just made me impatient. Much of the story is told as a flashback, which deflates some of the dramatic tension, and the linking elements seem awkward and misplaced. I also noticed some unfortunate editing choices towards the end that spoiled some of the action, but that's a minor complaint. I think my biggest issue was with some of the glaring logic holes, especially given the otherwise realistic tone that the film strives to create. What bothered me most was when she escaped from the back of a police car by simply opening the door. Hey, aren't those supposed to be locked and only accessible from the outside?

Apart from my minor quibbles, I enjoyed "Haywire" quite a bit, even if it does come across as Steven Soderbergh's love letter to its leading lady. Gina Carano's performance is fantastic, and her action scenes are hard hitting, beautifully staged, and delightful to watch. I hope this film creates new opportunities to expand upon and explore her action persona. The music score is also quite enjoyable and has a great 1970's funk appeal to it, which recalls the ambience of Pam Grier's action films. And lastly, the film has one of the best punchlines I've seen in a long time. Good stuff.