Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of that thing Steven Soderbergh does. The multi-thread, many-limbed, back-and-forth action thing that worked so brilliantly in Traffic, totally seduced us during Ocean’s Eleven and felt a bit sterile during Contagion ; it’s his style and heck, there are certainly worse ones out there. The fact that his suit-em-and-shoot-em skills are once again prevalent in action-fest Haywire isn’t the problem, the problem is that he’s chosen the wrong girl for the job. And, believe it or not, I mean that as a compliment to newcomer Gina Carano. Sort of.
The Muay Thai champion plays Mallory Kane – an agent-for-hire who is known throughout the shady government dealings world as a woman who always gets her man. And when we say get, we mean kill. And when we say kill, we mean punch in the face until he dies. Stomping her way around the world with naught but a gun and her thighs with which to get justice done, we meet her undertaking a contract from sometime lover Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) to rescue a journalist in Barcelona. And if there’s one thing Mallory loves doing, it’s punching men in the face until they die, closely followed by rescuing journalists.
When she gets there, Channing Tatum shows up, and makes noises to the effect of “hmmm woman woman, do we need this woman”, and then Gina runs really fast and it’s all fine. After smashing the Barcelona mission, Kenneth sends Mallory to Dublin for reasons that are explained very hastily, as everyone can tell the audience will be a bit irritated at the fact that the central conceit has yet to come into play. Once there, Mallory is HORRIBLY BETRAYED by the very agency she’s working for, and screams “THIS IS THE CENTRAL CONCEIT” into a Blackberry before utterly destroying Michael Fassbender with her arms and her legs.
From then on, Haywire juggles its two objectives – letting Gina Carano beat people up and showcasing lots of famous men with different facial hair – to create a pretty much nonsense tale of… maybe betrayal? Betrayal and, like, conspiracy and stuff? But with men in suits sometimes, but also sometimes just with a woman falling off a ledge and it looking like it REALLY hurt. It doesn’t matter, look at Gina pull herself up onto a roof! She did that with her strength! The problem is that Gina’s natural talents – running and fighting, just so we’re, oh you got it – don’t necessarily translate to speaking wry Steven-Soderbergh-esque dialogue, and though there’s no denying her natural physical charisma, it all goes a bit Arnie-in-Terminator-2 when faced with scenes that require any emotion whatsoever.
Supposedly tender exchanges between Mallory and her Dad have all the poignant resonance of a motorbike ploughing into a horse, and by the time she’s trying to show anything other than thinly veiled disgust for Channing Tatum, you just want someone to smooth down her wires, pat her on the bolts and tell her that she doesn’t have to feel anything that isn’t there. David Holmes’ Ocean’s 14 score doesn’t help either; its sassy, confident jazz riffs only serving to undermine the easy charm that Carano’s Mallory just doesn’t have.
The thing is, Soderbergh is so used to concocting slightly stylized, star-packed block-busters that when someone like Gina Carano comes his way, he treats her like Philip Noyce treated Angelina Jolie in Salt – ie, like she’s Angelina Jolie. What this genuinely interesting action performer needs is a stripped back script, a metal stick and two hours going to town on some inner-city drug-weasels – putting her next to a tarted up Michael Douglas in an aircraft hanger for LITERALLY NO REASON just serves to highlight both Carano’s awkwardness and Soderbergh’s innate love of classy artifice over grisly reality. That’s not to say that there isn’t good fun to be had with this film – the fight sequences are genuinely refreshing and it’s always nice to see a film where Antonio Banderas has two different beards, but with lots of talent all pointing in different directions, Haywire never quite manages to seize control.