Stephen Soderbergh's experimental action film Haywire packs punch and an exceptional cast, but there is a reason why action movies are done a certain way. While some of the director's techniques work, others fall flat, resulting in an entertaining but far-from-groundbreaking film.
MMA fighter Gina Carano stars as Mallory Kane, a black ops secret agent who is betrayed while on a mission and sets out to find those responsible. Carano isn't a household name, but the rest of the cast qualifies: Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton and Michael Douglas.
Another way to put it: she can kick ass, and they can act.
Back in 2009, Soderbergh directed another experimental movie called The Girlfriend Experience, about a high-end escort. The drama starred porn star Sasha Grey in her first non-porn, and it worked because, in part, Grey is an actress. A porn actress, but an actress nonetheless. The same cannot be said about Carano, who, especially contrasted against several A-league actors, is way out of her league with Haywire.
And yet, she makes for a likable lead who holds her own, even if her acting ability is amateurish. It helps that she can kick some major ass, and that's really the point of Haywire: Soderbergh wanted to buck standard convention and make an action movie that shies away from quick cuts, special effects and over-the-top fights. Who better to do that than a beautiful woman who fights for a living?
The action scenes are well done and often brutal. The fistfight between Carano and Fassbender is especially good, and the others - save for a less-than-thrilling car chase - are effective.
But there's a big difference between effective and gripping. In the process of showing how action movies can be done without the normal trappings of an action movie, Soderbergh proves why action movies behave a certain way. The action scenes in Haywire are well done, but the movie never achieves a sense of real tension, because the filmmaking fails to bother with it. The resulting product is a mildly engaging picture without suspense, excitement or even mystery.
It doesn't help that in his attempt to make a different kind of action movie, Soderbergh used a less-than-great screenplay by Lem Dobbs (Dark City, The Score, The Limey). The dialogue is stilted at times, but more importantly, the betrayed secret agent plot has been done many times before, and better. The story offers nothing new in terms of twists or developments, which is strange given Soderbergh's pedigree for trying to do something unique.
Though the emphasis is different, Haywire reminds me a lot of Spartan, a David Mamet spy thriller that bucks standard convention and presents a thoroughly engaging and unpredictable story. It is one of my favorite movies. Haywire has some redeeming value and is worth seeing for the true action film aficionado, but it doesn't work the way Soderbergh intended.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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