Monday, January 23, 2012

Filled with Star Power, Haywire Provides an Erratic Ride

     Very soon after the previews roll, the lights in the theater fade to darkness, and everyone gets settled into their seats for director Steven Soderbergh's newest film, Haywire, Mallory Kane--portrayed by MMA super-fighter Gina Carano--is getting scalding-hot coffee tossed into her face and a man's powerful fists smashing her head against the floor. It's a surprising and brutal start to the film, but one that is effective in relaying a message to the audience: be ready for a film with no-holds-barred realistic violence against both sexes, a film that's trying to avoid typical action movie predictability. In that regard, it (mostly) succeeds: Haywire is 2012's first film worth seeing, a film that is solely based around Gina Carano's impressive and sexy martial arts skills and not too concerned about plot or plausibility (and it doesn't need to be).
     The plot is basically construed to be a variety of scenes that put Mallory in jeopardy. She's an employee of a secret government agency, an agency that sends people into various exotic locales to retrieve items, shoot bad guys, and free hostages. Haywire starts in the present, with Mallory on the run, and much of the film is arranged in flashbacks showing how the smart agent is in her current dire situation. She gets betrayed by a myriad of people at every turn, and one has to think how this agency has survived as long as it has with all of the double crossing. After a mysterious mission in Barcelona, Mallory isn't even finished unpacking before her boss sends her on another mission, one that is supposed to be a cakewalk. This sets off a chain of events that leaves behind many bloody bodies and bruised faces.
     Though--as I stated before--the film is basically a showcase for Gina Carano's fighting skills, what a damn good cast Haywire has. Mallory's ex-boyfriend and the firm's director, Kenneth, is portrayed by Ewan McGregor (who has shown his great range lately in The Ghost Writer and Beginners), clearly relishing his role as a man of power with questionable morals. Mallory and Kenneth have been hired for the dangerous mission by Government agent Coblenz, portrayed by Michael Douglas in his typical charming yet snaky characterization. His contact is Rodrigo, played by Antonio Banderas as a rich man who may be in over his head. Bill Paxton is Mallory's dad, John, the only person she can trust, a man in which every situation is analyzed with a militaristic mentality in his mind. The ever-watchable Michael Fassbender portrays a British agent with an agenda of his own. It's quite amazing that Soderbergh has wrangled in a cast such as this, because many of them are just bit characters who are present to be punching bags instead of a showcase of acting ability.
    The best part of Haywire is a breath of fresh air compared to most of the hundreds of generic action films that come out every year. The fight scenes seem extremely realistic and feel much more painful than typical fighting fare. There's a reason for this: the elaborate and technical fight scenes are mostly filmed with static camera angles that allow the viewer to really watch. This isn't like the Bourne movies, where the quick camera cutting from punch to kick make Matt Damon's ability seem faster than lightning striking. These fights are damn real: they're slower and more controlled, and there are lulls in the action where the actors gather themselves before going in for more. Give credit to the cast for taking a beating, because--after watching the one-after-another fight scenes in Haywire--it's easy to guarantee that they were extremely sore and bruised the next day.
      Is Gina Carano the "next big thing" in female action stars? That's a tougher question. Though she clearly isn't a wonderful actress yet (most of the scenes which involve her in dialogue don't work as well as her giving an ass-kicking), Haywire is a great showcase of her screen presence, stamina, and sexuality. I could see her getting better and better if she decides to pursue a career in acting instead of beating real women to near-death. Though the film has an anorexic-thin story and is basically just a good distraction for a snowy winter afternoon, Haywire succeeds in what it sets out to do: become a top-of-the-line genre action film that puts more stock into style than into substance.     (B)

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