Tuesday, January 31, 2012

HAYWIRE (2012)

Written by Lem Dobbs

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. January 23, 2012  6:00PM

There's not a film genre that Steven Soderbergh isn't willing to try to tackle and with his latest, "Haywire", he takes on the action-thriller. If you have seen any of his previous works, then you know that Mr. Soderbergh doesn't do anything conventionally and like the 2009 film, "The Girlfriend Experience", he has cast the lead with a relatively unknown and unconventional performer, Gina Carano. Her claim to fame is that she's a former mixed-martial arts fighter and appeared on the television show, "American Gladiators" as "Crush". She shows great promise as the world is in need of the first female action star.

When we first see Mallory (Carano), her face cut and bruised, she has entered a quiet diner, seeming like she is trying to avoid someone. That person enters and Aaron (Channing Tatum) tries to calmly talk to her to leave with him. That doesn't work, so he begins to physically assault her and pulls out a gun. A patron in the diner, Scott (Michael Angarano) tries to help Mallory but there's no need as she is more than able to handle Aaron as she breaks his arm and knocks him out.

Mallory demands to use Scott's car to escape, taking him with her. For some implausible reason, Mallory begins to spill her secret past to this stranger which is that she and Aaron are private contractors who work for an agency run by Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) that can be hired for covert assignments. A U.S. agent (Michael Douglas) wants the team to go to Barcelona to rescue a journalist being held captive. The dangerous mission is successful and they hand him over to the contact,  Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas).

After Mallory returns home and anticipating a well-earned vacation, Kenneth talks her in to taking one more quick assignment in Dublin. She is to meet a British agent (Michael Fassbender) and pretend to be his wife for an undercover mission. However, Mallory soon discovers that nothing is what it appears to be, including her mission in Barcelona. In order to stay alive, Mallory must use her wits and training to stay one step ahead in order to get to the truth. Once she paints her face in camouflage and puts her hair in corn-rows, then you know that she means to get down to business.

There is something that feels Tarantinoesque about "Haywire" but it's not in the screenplay as it's main function seems to be to simply guide us through one fight sequence to the next with the dialogue no where near as clever or memorable.  The influence has more to do with the way the film was assembled with A-list actors playing against type, a plot that uses vengeance as it's motivating factor, flashbacks to move the story forward, and most especially, the very witty ending. If you gave Ms Carano a samurai sword, she would actually fit quite nicely in the world of "Kill Bill". What is pure Soderbergh is the dynamic cinematography and the fast-paced editing which is all actually done by Soderbergh despite it being credited to Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard respectively (perhaps it's his way of keeping his ego in check).

Mr. Soderbergh called in some favors and surrounded his acting novice with big name actors to occupy some very small roles but it really wasn't all that necessary. Although it's hard to tell if she can really act but Ms Carano is a formidable presence. She delivers her lines with enough conviction and holds her own on the screen but her real strength is her physical energy. In the long tradition of male action performers, Ms Carano impressively performs most of her own stunts which helps in convincing you that she is the real deal. She's no one you would want to mess with on screen or in real life.

"Haywire" is action-packed, filled with exciting high-energy sequences but the film isn't really much fun and fails to reach it's full potential due to an incoherent, meandering plot. This wouldn't really be that surprising, in fact expected, for your standard action flick but considering that a film maker of the caliber of Mr. Soderbergh was behind the camera, I expected something well above an average experience.