The trailers will try and convince you that “Haywire” is the thematic and spiritual successor to “Kill Bill,” with a do-not-mess with, strong female lead getting payback on those who betrayed her.
And watching the glimpses of MMA star Gina Carano toss around Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Ewan McGregor and Antonio Banderas certainly seems like a can’t miss premise as “Haywire” also offers an extra bonus for any nerds who ever wondered what it would be like to watch an American Gladiator completely destroy Magneto, Duke, Obi-Wan … and Puss in Boots.
But unlike Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece, “Haywire” is much more restrained, calculated and not nearly as much fun. Granted “Haywire” isn’t set in a nearly cartoonish world where blood sprays like geysers such as the “Kill Bill” realm, but for a smarter, thinking action film, it sure is dumb at times.
Reunited with his “The Limey” screenwriter Lem Dobbs, Director Stephen Soderbergh (the “Ocean’s” trilogy) gives us a not-so typical portrait of the life of special ops soldier Mallory Kane (Carano). Mallory’s become disenchanted with her life and ready to break away from her boss and former lover, Kenneth (McGregror, “The Beginners”).
Fearing the loss of his prized operative, Kenneth pleads with Mallory to take a simple assignment, which naturally doesn’t go anything like planned and everything goes … (wait for it) … haywire.
For the first 15-minutes or so, Soderbergh seems content to stage “Ocean’s 14,” with lots of walking, insider dialogue that feels as if the audience has come into a much longer conversation with little clue what’s going on and multi-colored panels sweeping up, down and across the screen all set to the beat of a magically hypnotic soundtrack. It’s pretty to look at and Carano makes for a striking figure onscreen, but Soderbergh and Dobbs doesn’t really let the audience into her head to see what’s beyond the surface, which seems contrary to the whole point of the film.
When Mallory’s tasked with accompanying another operative, Paul, (Fassbender, “X-Men: First Class”) to a meeting, there’s no reason why she decides to sneakily install a tracker onto his phone. Maybe this is just her standard operating procedure when working with a new partner, but it seemed too coincidental and just for the sake of the movie.
After their rendezvous, Paul attempts to kill Mallory like most highly-trained assassins would — with his fists. It seemed a bit silly, especially considering he had a gun close by. Then in an even bigger stretch of credibility, Mallory calls Paul’s contact, who instead of waiting to hear Paul, just asks is she dead. Have these guys ever watched a thriller, let alone a spy movie?
Mallory relays this story to Scott (Michael Angarano, “Red State”), a Good Samaritan who tries to help her from being caught by another operative, Aaron (Channing Tatum, “G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra”). There’s no logical reason for Mallory to share all this information with a complete stranger other than to form some sort of narrative to past events for the audience’s sake. The payoff to the subplot with Scott is one of the more creative and surprising I’ve seen in a long time. It’s smart and has that “this would happen in the real world” sense that too much of the movie lacks.
Structurally, the film is solid. Soderbergh shoots from a perspective to bring you right into Mallory’s world. When Mallory chases after an assassin, Soderbergh has the camera centered straight at her, her breath rapidly increasing as the chase intensifies without quick cuts to take the audience out of the desperation from both parties’. As Mallory drives off in Scott’s car, Soderbergh often gives us a backseat view almost as if we’re getting too close a look into the action.
Carano’s voice was altered, presumably to give her a deeper, more hardened sound. The effect didn’t work for me as it made Carano sound like generic tough-girl who one could stereotype as being a hard-edged fighter. She’s got enough star potential that her voice really didn’t need the tinkering to fit in some limited mold of what an action heroine “should” sound like.
If ever Warner Bros. decides to give a Wonder Woman movie a genuine effort, they really need look no farther than casting Carano in the lead role as she certainly has the screen presence to carry the role of an Amazon that doesn’t need Superman or Batman’s help in kicking butt.
For a January film, “Haywire” isn’t bad, but with its cast and acclaimed director/screenwriter, I was expecting a lot more than a passable movie-going experience. Slightly recommended.