Carano and Fassbender have a bad date in Haywire.
* * Haywire. Written by Directed by Lem Dobbs. Directed by Steven Soderbergh.
Director Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven, Che, Traffic) is developing a pattern of casting unorthodox female leads for his films. For The Girlfriend Experience (2009) we got porn star Sasha Grey in her first mainstream role, and under Soderbergh’s direction, not badly acquitting herself. Now we have Haywire, in which Gina Carano, a championship-level “mixed martial arts” fighter (currently 7-1 in competition) plays a black ops super-soldier out for revenge against her double-crossing employer (Ewan MacGregor). So does she do as well as the porn star?
The short answer is, well, yeah. And while this film will undoubtedly make more money than Grey’s, and Carano can almost certainly kick her ass (and Ron Jeremy’s too), it’s also a far more formulaic movie than The Girlfriend Experience. In fact, after the unexpected pleasures of Soderbergh’s last film, Contagion, Haywire seems so numbingly conventional as to be actually depressing.
Carano is Mallory, a former Marine now in the so-called “private sector” of covert ops. By some contortions of Lem Dobbs’ incomprehensible script, she is sent on a mission to Barcelona that turns out to be a set up, which she instantly and without apparent justification sniffs out. Naturally, instead of escaping to make inquiries from a safe location, she goes on a Jason Bourne-style vendetta against MacGregor, his pal Antonio Banderas, her ex-partner (Channing Tatum), and anybody else with a gun and a penis who happens to be in the way. And while she’s unstoppable, and she’s relentless, and swears “I don’t wear the dress,” she apparently does pause to put on lip-gloss before heading out to kick male butt. Bet neither Tom Cruise nor Matt Damon could pull that off.
There is a lot of action in Haywire, and some of it is well done. Soderbergh shoots Carano’s fight scenes at eye-level and with minimal cutting—just a master (or is that a mistress?) of her craft showing her skills. Then again, the professional actors here look pretty skilled too, including Michael Fassbender as an MI-6 agent so scrawny he’d barely outweigh Taylor Swift. Carano is no siren in a catsuit, no Kate Beckinsale. Her appeal lies in bringing a certain pantherish grace to the mat, along with a thick, Gina Gershon-esque sensuality. But it’s still not obvious here what a professional fighter can bring to a movie that a professional actor can’t, with coaching.
Perhaps the best (as in symptomatic) scene here is when Carano and Fassbender come back to their hotel room from a dinner date. Both look good, and the air between them is charged with erotic possibility—until they get into the room and start beating the bejesus out of each other. This is symptomatic because this, apparently, is what we Americans would rather see two attractive, unattached people do in a hotel room than the obvious alternative.
To his credit, Soderbergh has developed a style that can make a shit sandwich taste like it just needs a little mayonnaise. Though Haywire is a formula movie through and through, he works hard to deglamorize it, to shun the marquee set-pieces and landmarks typical of, say, the Mission: Impossible movies. Here, everything is just a little more ordinary, just a little bit smaller than life. The result isn’t the worst thing in the world. But one can’t help thinking that a guy with Soderbergh’s talent should stop wasting his time making better-than-average shit sandwiches.
© 2012 Nicholas Nicastro