Haywire (Steven Soderbergh, 2011)
I’ll start off with two confessions: (a) the last Steven Soderbergh movie I actually liked was 1999’s The Limey, and (b) not a single review I read of Haywire before watching the film mentioned that it was directed by Steven Soderbergh, so when I added it to my Netflix queue, I had no idea it was anything other than the Gina Carano vehicle I’d seen it painted as so many times. Soderbergh earned my eternal scorn with the trio of remakes he did just after The Limey, which desecrated two of my favorite movies of all time (Ocean’s 11 and Solyaris) and turned an interesting, intelligent TV miniseries into a brainless rah-rah-rah feature (Traffic) that begged me to turn it off at least once a minute for its entire length. And I rush to add that Haywire, brainless as it is, is nowhere as awful as that trio of obscenity, but all those “Gina Carano vehicle” reviews are right, in the classic sense of the term: this is a movie that focuses the viewer’s attention on Carano despite there being the usual bevy of huge-name stars who seem to cleave to Soderbergh like remora sucking on hammerheads.
Plot: MMA champ Carano plays Mallory Kane, an ex-government operative now working for a private company headed by Kenneth (Ewan MacGregor, whose very presence in a film spells doom). As we open, she’s sitting in a little diner in upstate New York, waiting to be extracted after a botched operation. Aaron (Magic Mike‘s Channing Tatum), another operative, shows up. We get the idea from their conversation that he was somehow involved in the operation, but we don’t have details yet. He attempts to forcibly abduct her when she refuses to go with him; despite being able to take care of herself, she is aided both by a waitress (stuntwoman Debby Ross Rondell in one of her few appearances as an actress) and Scott, an innocent bystander (Red State‘s Michael Angarano). Presumably, the waitress has to finish out her shift, so Kane—one of only three people in the film with a given last name—grabs Scott, heads out the door, commandeers his car, and spends most of the rest of the movie in flashback, telling him about said botched operation. It seems Kenneth sent her to Barcelona to extract a guy while partnered with an MI6 agent named Paul (Hunger‘s Michael Fassbender). Problem is, the guy in question ended up dead, as did Paul after he attempted to kill her, resulting in Kane doing a bunch of globetrotting with agents, cops, and pretty much the rest of the world on her trail—and now her fate is in the hands of a nineteen-year-old whose greatest achievement is having just bought a Prius. (I think it was a Prius.) Can Mallory, filtering all the data she has through Scott, figure out what went wrong before she ends up in the hands of people who obviously want her dead?
I didn’t even scrape the surface of the massive names here. The opening scene, where the Barcelona job is hashed out, has MacGregor in a room with Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas, who’s a really good friend of Matthieu Kassovitz’ (if the name isn’t as familiar as those first three, go grab yourself a copy of La Haine posthaste. I’ll wait). Kane’s father is played by Bill Paxton; the guy they’re supposed to extract is Anthony Brandon Wong, from the Matrix franchise. I could go on and on. And while Carano is a decent enough actor for genre work, it’s kind of ridiculous to expect her to hold her own with a cast of that caliber. But…she does.
And here’s where my problems with Steven Soderbergh come to the fore. Here’s a guy who, at the beginning of his career, was notable for getting fantastic performances out of his actors; was Andie MacDowell ever better than she was in sex, lies, and videotape? But once you get past Terence Stamp kicking ass and taking names in The Limey, and the similarity of Stamp’s role there and Carano’s here has not escaped me, Soderbergh seems to have gone the exact opposite way. Everyone in this movie save Carano and MacGregor, who is never capable of acting even up to the “meh” level, gives a performance best characterized as “meh”. Which, by default, makes Carano the standout. How does that happen in a movie containing Michael Fassbender, who’s under consideration by a whole lot of people I know as the Best Actor Working in Movies Today (TM)? It has to be Soderbergh’s direction.
That said, if you’re looking for a turn-your-brain-off action picture that showcases Gina Carano doing a whole lot of what she does best—beating people up—than Haywire is as good a choice as anything. But, man, Lem Dobbs’ script is all over the place, way too complex and not nearly enough fun. Dobbs has always been inconsistent; I still have a hard time believing the guy who wrote the sublime Dark City was also responsible for the ridiculous Hider in the House (we’ll also note in passing: guess who wrote The Limey?). This, however, represents a new low for Dobbs, if not for Soderbergh. **