(US/Ireland - 2012)
Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Written by Lem Dobbs. Cast: Gina Carano, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton, Channing Tatum, Mathieu Kassovitz, Michael Angarano. (R, 93 mins)
Retired MMA star Gina Carano makes an impressive action movie debut in Steven Soderbergh's offbeat arthouse action thriller HAYWIRE. It's already more or less bombed at the box office and the gap between critical raves and audience disapproval (scoring a D+ on Cinemascore) is among the widest in recent memory. I think the best way to approach HAYWIRE is to accept it as a Soderbergh film first and an action flick second, as it has all the distinctive Soderbergh looks and rhythms, and is probably closest in spirit to his 1999 cult film THE LIMEY (both films were written by Lem Dobbs). Like that film, HAYWIRE has a cold detachment to it that can be a little off-putting at first, and the story takes a good hour to really show all its cards and let you completely in on what's going on, but it grows on you. It's got a great cast, exciting, brutal action sequences, a jarringly 1970s feel with the refreshing lack of CGI and shaky-cam and hyperactive editing, and a hypnotic score by David Holmes that kept reminding me of early '70s jazz fusion, almost like Chick Corea's keyboard sound in the heyday of Return to Forever. It's a strange movie, there's no denying it, and I can see why Joe Multiplex is rejecting it if they aren't open to an B-grade action movie done through Soderbergh's vision. Sure, Soderbergh could've made a standard, cookie-cutter, straight-to-DVD-style action flick. But why would he?
Carano is Mallory Kane, a top operative for a black-ops outfit contracted by the government. The film opens with Mallory in a diner in upstate New York, where she proceeds to get into a bonecrushing brawl with former associate Aaron (Channing Tatum). She escapes and takes customer Scott (Michael Angarano) with her, telling him her story that plays out mostly in flashbacks. It doesn't take long for Mallory to figure out she's being set up, but for what and by whom are the unknowns: there's Aaron; Mallory's boss and ex-lover Kenneth (Ewan McGregor); MI-6 agent Paul (Michael Fassbender); his associate Studer (Mathieu Kassovitz); US government honcho Coblenz (Michael Douglas); and his contact Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas).
Carano is an engaging screen presence and holds her own with her impressive supporting cast. There was an admission just prior to release that her voice was digitally lowered, but it wouldn't have been noticeable at all and, to me, is a complete non-issue. The numerous fight scenes play out in long takes with little (if any) music and no sound effects. Sometimes they aren't perfectly choreographed. In short, they look, for the most part, like real fights. Dobbs' script has numerous twists and turns and some occasionally witty dialogue (I love Douglas' deadpan delivery of the line "We got ourselves a real twizzler here," when he's on the phone trying to get to the bottom of things). HAYWIRE was probably a hard sell, which could explain why it sat unreleased for almost two years before getting a January dumping (filming was completed well before Douglas' summer 2010 cancer diagnosis; and Soderbergh's next project was CONTAGION, which was released months ago). It's an intriguing, enjoyable film that often seems like a lost relic from another bygone decade, and I mean that in a good way, and that's why I feel it makes a good companion piece to THE LIMEY, a film that's improved with age--the film's and my own.