Steven Soderbergh‘s Haywire is–perhaps literally–a kick-ass little guilty pleasure. It is so because through its snappy 94 minutes, there is plenty of ass-kicking carried out by its redoubtable heroine Mallory Kane (Gina Carano, the formidable mixed martial arts fighter turned movie actress). Indeed, the movie could have been rather profitably–and more accurately–named Don’t Mess With Mallory Kane. Soderbergh might have kicked off an entire franchise, complete with action dolls, had he done so. Kane is that captivating. (I realize I’m in the minority in this regard as the movie has had only mixed receptions from both critics and audiences.)
Haywire has a plot of sorts. A private contractor for the US Government (I think), Mallory Kane is double-crossed by her handlers and almost assassinated; she then goes on the run, seeking clarity and revenge, all the while fending off, and sometimes creatively attacking, in rather spectacular jaw-breaking and groin-smashing style, her varied pursuers and quarries: sometimes once-fellow operatives, sometimes policemen, sometimes SWAT teams. Some of her opponents survive, and are lucky to get off with broken arms or legs; others are not. There are rooftop chases, a car chase of sorts, and plenty of close-quarter fighting in enclosed spaces. You really don’t need to know much more than that; it’s pretty clear from the beginning who we are to be rooting for; the bad guys are marked out soon enough as well; the plot details are incidental.
Like any good ‘international espionage’ movie, there are dizzying changes of glamorous locales and scenery, made a shade more dazzling thanks to Soderbergh’s non-linear narrative, rapid-cut editing and David Holmes‘ soundtrack: we begin in upstate New York, cut back and forth to Barcelona, then Dublin, then New Mexico and finally, Majorca. (Apologies if I missed out a locale or two.) An all-star cast that includes Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton, Matthieu Kassovitz, Michael Fassbender and Channing Tatum lend a hand. But they all play second fiddle to Ms. Carona, who looks glamorous and tough throughout–the movie’s dark palette aids her in this endeavor–and by the end of the movie has established herself as an avenging angel par excellence. (The movie’s ending confirms this transformation.)
Haywire could have been a rather run of the mill martial arts movie, all too similar to most of other members of this rather depressing genre, one that I do not think has ever recaptured its aura since the days of Bruce Lee; it is not so because it is helmed by a skilled director and because its central character manages, somehow, despite inadequate development, to get the viewer on her side. There are some attempts to give Kane’s character heft: we know she is an ex-Marine, presumably brought up solo by her author father, who might have been a military person himself (as his warnings to Kane to ‘check your six‘ suggest). But these don’t add much, and in the end, they are entirely superfluous.
This is not great cinema by any stretch but it was most definitely great entertainment.