Saturday, January 21, 2012

Haywire


HAYWIRE: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas (93 min.)

Steven Soderbergh has more fun leaping in between genres than any other director around.  From big budget heist films, to small experimental films, to social dramas, to remakes and tales small and large in science fiction and reality, Soderbergh is an auteur who cannot be pidgeonholed.  His latest venture, Haywire, stars an actress with no formal acting experience.  She is Gina Carano, a retired Mixed Martial Arts superstar who Soderbergh saw perform one night and pursued her for the role.  With the physicality of such a role you can see why Soderbergh wanted her for the demanding part.  It doesn't hurt that Carano is quite beautiful, and can act just enough to carry a film like Haywire, which skirts a fine line between substance and hollowness. Unfortunately, falls on the side of the latter too often to be memorable, despite an amazing cast.

The plot is all too familiar: Carano is Mallory Kane, one of those super secret operatives for one of those fringe government contracting companies where big deals are made and people are "extracted" or "taken care of."  You know the ones, just scan the history of these genre pictures and you will see two dozen secret agencies like this one.  Mallory is the best in the business, a smooth and incredibly athletic killing machine.  Which is what we see her do most.  The film opens with Mallory defending herself against Aaron (Channing Tatum, taking the time to use facial expressions for once), another agent who was with her in Barcelona where something apparently went wrong.  She escapes Aaron's initial attack and while on the run she delivers the details of her story to the passenger of the car she snagged (Michael Angarano).  There was the job in Barcelona, then the job in Ireland where she was double crossed by another agent (Michale Fassbender) and her boss and former lover, Kenneth (Ewan McGregor).  Another fight breaks out between Mallory and Fassbender's character, Paul, in a hotel room.  These fight sequences are the highlight of the picture as Soderbergh allows them to unfold organically without any background score or accentuated punching noises.

These fight scenes also show Carano's ability to take some heavy hitting.  She is a physical specimen who seems to be able to handle any of the men who come at her.  Mallory works her way back to Kenneth and tries to figure out who is behind the double cross.  Is it Kenneth alone?  Or could it be the shady government contact played by Michael Douglas?  Perhaps it is the Hispanic big wig without a past - or much of a present - played by Antonio Banderas.  The only person Mallory can trust is her father, played by Bill Paxton.  This is an impressive cast, one of the best ensembles I can remember, but these players are given so very little to do.  Aside from Fassbender and McGregor, these satellite roles could have been played by anyone and it would not have mattered. 

The solution to the plot doesn't really matter, and the person behind the conspiracy is a little bit of a letdown because he is the character who has said the least and been on screen the fewest.  And, thanks to the Economy of Characters theory where there are no unnecessary characters in any given narrative, once the story reaches the end of the third act the person responsible is pretty much the only one left.  Now I have been a little hard on Haywire, I know, because I expect so much more from any Soderbergh picture.  But through all the faults of the film I do think it is entertaining and it moves at a brisk clip.  Carano is the female answer to Jason Statham, and she can throw her athletic frame around with just about anybody in my opinion.  I just wanted something more than a hollow shell of an action film.  Let's get to know Mallory a little more, or maybe the villains a little more.  Flesh this picture out and give it some heft, and you might have something memorable here.  As it is, however, I don't think I will remember it much.

C+