Mallory spends much of the movie on the run; after a rescue mission in Barcelona, she gets double-crossed by her private contractor boss, and she must fight her way through police, fellow agents, and anyone else in her way. Her opponents, in one way or another, include Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, and Ewan McGregor; the wonder is not, as with recent-period Angelina Jolie, that a skinny chick is taking on all these dudes but rather that the likes of Fassbender or Tatum hold their own for longer than a few seconds. Soderbergh neither artificially draws out these fights nor speeds the action up to superhuman levels; as a result, it feels like we're actually watching Carano punch, kick, drive—even run across rooftops, as in a scrappy yet, with Soderbergh's overcast cinematography under his nom de photographique Peter Andrews, quite elegant Dublin chase sequence. Soderbergh uses his Traffic/Contagion color-coding system to give each of the movie's many locations its own gorgeous hue, and Carano cuts a surprisingly iconic figure in each one.
Reunited with Lem Dobbs, the screenwriter of The Limey nearly as famous for the contentious commentary track on that movie's DVD, Soderbergh does a similar job of thin-slicing and scrambling a simple vengeance narrative, though not so impressionistically this time. The Dobbs dialogue is spare, but often dryly witty, especially when spoken by Michael Douglas in low-key smoothie mode. In the end, Haywire doesn't have The Limey's elegiac mood or sense of time slipping away. For that matter, it lacks the weary romance of Out of Sight or the sadness and panic of Contagion; it's perhaps the most genre-riffic of Soderbergh's genre riffs. It's also ridiculous enjoyable, sending 70s cool and 80s exploitation through the director's formal filters. As far as I'm concerned, Carano and Soderbergh can follow the same advice: keep knocking 'em out.
In any case, fine, Sony, I'll go out and pay for Underworld: Awakening this weekend so I can review it (and also because I want to), although I wish it was easier to find in 2-D; I'm sure the glasses won't do any favors to the black-and-blue color scheme. I don't remember much about what happens in the first three Underworld movies (some fragments: guns; leather; rubbery werewolves; Kate Beckinsale kinda-naked but not naked-naked; Scott Speedman whispering; shirtless Michael Sheen screaming; Kate Beckinsale lookalike, also kinda naked), but I'm sure Awakening will remind me, by repeatedly rehashing their stories. This one finds Selene (Beckinsale) waking up to a world where humans hunt vampires and werewolves (so: a world not unlike every other world where vampires and werewolves exist), and so the vampires and werewolves, former adversaries after backstory explained in all three movies but especially the first and third, must consider teaming up to save themselves. I really am curious as to how the humans get spun as the bad guys in this situation, but hey, whatever Leather-Clad Kate Beckinsale says!
By the way, in 2012 we're getting entries in both of the signature Screen Gems Lady Asskickers Franchise. Resident Evil and Underworld usually alternate years, sort of like how James Bond and Star Trek used to share custody of being the holiday action movie, but the stars have aligned and we're getting our January and September in one fantastical year.
Red Tails: I read the Times Magazine profile of George Lucas this week, and it made me think of Red Tails as a one-last-job movie. The movie itself is an entirely different subgenre, no less worn and perhaps even creakier: the plucky WWII combat-pilot movie. The African-American pilots of this movie aren't looking for one last job; they're eager to join the fray and serve their country, et cetera. But Lucas himself, who executive produced the movie after developing it for some two decades, seems perpetually on the verge of his one final mainstream crowd-pleaser. First Revenge of the Sith would mark the end of his Star Wars period and usher in the oddball experimental projects he's been talking up vaguely for years. Then he was going to have one more crack at Indiana Jones. Now it's Red Tails, and that's it! He swears! This is his last hurrah as a purveyor of big-budget blockbusters! Unless of course this movie is a big hit and can inspire the prequel and sequel he's been thinking about! Or if Spielberg wants to do another Indiana Jones! But apart from those, he's done! Experimental movies! Coming up!
So given the likable but middling Red Tails, why would I clamor for more Lucasfilm productions? Because the approach is actually pretty neat, at least in theory: reviving a musty genre with new technology and minimal big-studio tinkering. But Lucas is still in one-last-job mode—in the Times story, he sounds wounded by rejection, whether it's internet nerds raging against the prequels or studios refusing to help finance a mid-budget passion project from a world-famous film icon (Fox is just distributing). But I'd submit that some of the disappointment has to do with his mystique, the way that his name has only been attached to four movies in any capacity in the past ten years—a busier period than most (his name is on two movies for the entirety of the 90s, and a comparatively whopping ten in the 80s). Like a disappointing album by a band that only does them every four or five years, Red Tails feels more like a missed opportunity when you consider that it's Lucas's passion project, first produced movie in four years, and/or possible swan song. I'm skeptical about his claim that the movie doing well will lead to more all-black casts for bigger-budget movies (though it would be great if that happened); more realistically, I'm just hoping the movie does well enough to convince Lucas that making movies is, you know, a pretty cool job.