Carano is a professional MMA fighter (her scorecard reads 7-1-0 Wins/Lost/Draw and she was ranked third best 145-pound female fighter in the world according to the Rankings) she may not cause Meryl Streep any sleepless nights ahead of the Academy Awards, but she certainly knows how to kick ass.
Haywire is a so-so film that would be filed in the bin marked “experimental” for Soderbergh were it not for the fact that the main protagonist is a woman and a woman that can certainly handle herself. Carano plays Mallory Kane an ex-Special Forces Operative (like Arnie in Commando), working for a private security firm (like Denzel Washington in Man On Fire), who is sold out by her employers (like Matt Damon in the Bourne films) who must use all her skill, training and grit to prove her innocence and survive (like oh so many other films).
We have seen female action heroes before (Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor for example) but Carano is something else, she doesn’t play an ordinary mother pushed to breaking point, taking revenge as only a last resort. Carano’s Mallory starts out hard as nails right from the opening scene and doesn’t let go until the credits roll. Probably because she can walk the walk as well as talk the talk, she can actually fight for real rather than just act like a fighter Carano is a commanding presence when she is on-screen flexing her muscles. This put her (and by default the film) above such typical Hollywood female fighters as Keira Knightley who looked as robust as a Ming vase as bounty hunter Domino Harvey or Angelina Jolie who looked far too much like Lara Croft to be taken seriously in Salt.
Haywire’s narrative is as old as Hollywood itself, it’s a sub-Bourne, super-soldier betrayed by their employees and taking revenge. Yet it’s injected with no imagination, originality or real drive beyond the facts that this special operative is a woman. This is a real shame, and we expected better from Soderbergh, who took the limp and lifeless heist movie and gave it a thorough shake up and makeover delivering Ocean’s Eleven one of the most fun films of the past 10 years. Haywire, as a film is nowhere near as entertaining as it could (or should) have been with all of the enthusiasm and imagination and wit seemingly used up on the casting.
The film is littered with a barrage of male movie stars, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton (as her dad), Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas and newcomer Michael Angarano as a temporary sidekick who makes Commando’s Rae Dawn Chong look like an integral character). Yet we never see a female spin on James Bond’s kiss kiss bang bang with any of these characters, which is a real shame.
At one point Malory’s boss who is responsible for setting her up commissions a hitman to kill her and warns him that “you shouldn’t think of her as a woman, that would be a mistake.” This is the film’s biggest problem; Mallory is a woman and whenever the filmmakers have the opportunity to highlight or celebrate this they instead pull their punches, leaving Haywire little more than a direct to video revenge action flick. It’s a real pity that Seidenberg didn’t set his sights on any higher than a 2012 reworking of a Cynthia Rothrock classic.
The film works best when Carano is on-screen and allowed to let rip and lay some smack down, however between chases and fights the film shies away from anything that might have a bit of balls about it. For example, after (a decent) Barcelona-set chase culminating in a satisfying highkicking fight a colleague of Mallory’s asks her why she gave chase, when the mission was pretty much accomplished without it, she replies “I don’t like loose ends”. The audience, the guy who asks the question and Carano all deserved a better response than that.
In short, Haywire should be regarded as an audition tape for what (I hope) will be a great action career for Gina Carano.