I’m tellingly unenthusiastic about Haywire, Steven Soderbergh’s latest, “Hey that chick is cool, I want to make a movie for her” project (last time it was The Girlfriend Experience with porn star Sasha Grey, which is easily one of the top 10 worst movies I’ve ever seen). Crafted for female MMA star Gina Carano, Haywire is appealingly slick and appropriately paced—it runs at a swift 90 minutes—but it left me a bit hollow, probably because it had no plot.
First and foremost, this movie was meant to introduce us to Gina Carano: Action Heroine. For the most part, this worked. I accept Carano as an action star. She’s watchable and she definitely sells the physical stuff. I am not saying this as a knock on her weight or anything—Carano is NOT fat—but it’s nice to see a woman on screen that actually looks like she could kick a man and it would hurt. She’s substantial. There are muscles. And, what interested me most—she used a lot of leverage in her fight scenes. In most movies with female action characters, the chick fights just like a man. Throws a punch like a man, moves like a man, reacts like a man. But let’s be honest—women don’t fight like men. We move differently. We have a different range of motion. Carano’s fight scenes repeatedly show her using leverage to increase her force and propulsion so she can take down men bigger than her. She isn’t doing fancy parkour tricks because it looks cool, but because bouncing off that wall is going to boost her momentum so she can knock that guy down. It was visually and characteristically pleasing.
Her acting was not as impressive but she wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected her to be, based on the trailer. Of course, this could be because her vocals were, um, manipulated to help that along. But she definitely wasn’t so bad that I would never see her again. In fact, Carano was just good enough to make me want to see her again, and this time, in her own voice. The rest of the cast—Channing Tatum, Ewan Macgregor, Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender, Michael Angarano, Michael Douglas and Bill Paxton—largely phoned it in. The Fassbender and Angarano were actually awake and participating, though Angarano—who scarred me for life with this—has little to do beyond exclaim, “Oh shit”. Still, he’s in it to win it in his few scenes. Can’t say the same for Ewan Macgregor, who was practically asleep throughout the movie. Tatum also appeared asleep, but that might be his natural look because of his deep set, Cro Magnon eyes.
There’s no use attempting to recap the plot. What’s in the trailer is what’s in the movie. These guys betray her, she gets revenge. I wasn’t sure what was happening for a solid 85% of the movie, and not because it was a clever “what’s really happening” construct, like Out of Sight was, but because there was virtually no effort at cohesive storytelling. Haywire was conceived as a series of action sequences for Carano to kick the asses of various men and there was only just enough “plot” to keep her moving toward her next target. This is probably my biggest problem with Haywire. It feels half-assed. Like putting a woman in a serious action role and really making her the equal of her male counterparts is enough. Like that somehow means story doesn’t matter. Well it’s not, and it does. It’s a big step in the right direction, sure, but Haywire still felt like a male fantasy spectacular. Like, for any guy that’s ever thought about having a pretty girl punch him in the face, here’s a ninety-minute dream sequence for you. Some characterization would have gone a long way to making Mallory Kane feel less like a video game character and more like a real person.
But the fight scenes are cool. Really, super cool. The standout is, of course, the hotel scene with The Fassbender. Not in the least because this segment of the film involves The Fass Ass in a towel (is this what The Beast looks like?), but mostly because The Fassbender makes everyone around him better and Carano’s best work is in their scenes. Also because their fight choreography is awesome and the lack of any soundtrack adds to the realism. Soderbergh knows how to stage these sorts of scenes and this scene is tense and brutal and scary. This is literally a life-and-death struggle and they both sell it well enough to feel like the outcome matters. No other fight has the same urgency or stark brutality that this one does. The movie is worth seeing just for this one scene alone.
So that’s Haywire. A stylish action movie with a solid action heroine and an amazing fight scene but no plot. It’s worth seeing, and hands-down it’s one of your better options at the cineplex right now, but there’s no urgency. If you want to wait for Netflix or On Demand, you certainly can. Also, the title has nothing to do with anything. Annoying.