I have no problem with anybody saying “Haywire” is a minor exercise in style from a major Oscar-winning filmmaker. If that’s all it is, I’d like to see more just like it.
Steven Soderbergh, fresh off “Contagion” and retired from the “Ocean’s Eleven” franchise, might be slumming just a bit here. “Haywire” is an action picture that hits all the beats you want from such a thing: bone-jarring fights, sly plot twists, globe-trotting espionage and people jumping across the roofs of buildings.
But it’s not a straightforward action flick, either. “Haywire” is sliced and diced in such a fashion that it makes you work a little bit to keep up, which is just fine.
Soderbergh cast the film’s lead with a champion of Mixed Martial Arts fighting, Gina Carano, who is not an actress, although there must be a certain amount of acting going on in the MMA arena.
She plays Mallory Kane, a spy on the run. I’m sure I didn’t understand all the levels of double-crossing going on, but you don’t have to get everything in Lem Dobbs’ screenplay to have fun with the movie.
It begins in an American diner, where Mallory beats up one man (Channing Tatum) and takes another (Michael Angarano) hostage; she then tells her story to her frightened passenger as she drives his car through the snow.
The tale skips from Barcelona to Dublin and points beyond, and among the other operatives in this world are “Dangerous Method” star Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor and Michael Douglas. We also get a bearded Antonio Banderas, plus Bill Paxton as Mallory’s father, who might have been in the spy business himself.
Even with all those good people, the movie relies on Carano. She is an interesting study: She doesn’t look like a star, but more like someone you went to high school with who turned out to have an unexpected talent. In this case, that talent is knocking people around.
While no Meryl Streep, she carries off the duties required of her: She glowers believably, she sprints through alleyways like the ground is on fire and she fights.
Man, does she fight. It is clear that one of Soderbergh’s aims in the movie is to show how hand-to-hand combat must hurt. This doesn’t feel like movie fighting, this feels like a street brawl.
The plot has many wrinkles, which smooth out in a satisfying way by the time we get to the end. And it’s all fueled by a great score by David Holmes, which makes the movie sound the way a spy movie should sound.
Don’t let anybody get away with describing this as a “Bourne” movie with a female lead. I enjoyed the “Bourne” movies, but “Haywire” has nary a handheld camera or quick-cut action scene to be found, and for that alone we should thank Soderbergh.
“Haywire” 3 1/2 stars
A stylish spy-movie exercise from director Steven Soderbergh, starring Mixed Martial Arts champ Gina Carano as an international agent in a double-crossing story. Carano is not really an actress, but she sure knows how to punch in the clinches, and the cast around her is strong: Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas.
Rated: R, for violence, language
Showing: Alderwood, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Metro, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall.