Directed by Steven Soderbergh
In Steven Soderbergh’s brisk new actioner, anytime Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, or Antonio Banderas appears, you’re impatient for MMA star/ambassador-of-asskicking Gina Carano to return and actually earn the screen. A familiar tale told partly in flashback about an American black-ops warrior deemed inquisitive and disposable, Haywire sounds like a reply to the critically over-cited Bourne series yet holds its own as a no- (or little-) nonsense showcase for the swift and brawny Carano, as well as the experimenting director at his most focused.
Chops, in other words, beat out clubbiness, as Carano executes a movie-length chase scene: her amiable character, Mallory, questions a hit in Barcelona and then must defend herself against a series of counter-objections raised in the form of elaborate entrapments, special-assault potshots, and assorted resounding thwacks. Her physicality leads the camera, as Mallory negotiates a world of potential risk, in which a luxury hotel room can house a cage match and a rolling shutter door can be used, in a pinch, to pin and detain a suspect.
The MMA melees that arise in the course of Mallory’s going off-duty satisfy with their righteous crunches, but, rendered into action sequences, the discipline behind the “no-holds-barred” style comes to the forefront. Stamina more than brutality is what impresses, and the paced, professional give-and-take—even when involving chokeholds and off-the-wall kicks—can feel as ritualized as a swashbuckling routine.
Carano does not push Mallory’s toughness through attitude, because she does not need to, and the film benefits from the fighter’s comfort in her own skin (and a down-to-earth likability still preserved after who-knows-how-many promos for MMA specials). Bill Paxton, as Mallory’s trusted poker-faced military historian dad, and Michael Douglas, as a government spook coordinator, nail line after line, in a script by Soderbergh’s self-referencing Limey and Kafka collaborator Lem Dobbs. It’s a fight picture that does its straight-to-video title justice.
Opens January 20