Against hefty odds, Gina Carano’s covert ops hard-nut Mallory Kane ably obliterates all comers in Steven Soderbergh’s revenge smack-’em-up. Likewise, Haywire delivers an agile drop-kick to doubts stacked against it.
It isn’t Soderbergh at his most Oscar-fit (Traffic), artful (Solaris) or ambitious (Che), but it’s dispatched with the brusque style of his keenest genre cuts (The Limey, Ocean’s Eleven), sending a smarting message to action flyweights everywhere: you do it like this.
MMA fighter Carano hasn’t acted before. Deferred release dates gave Soderbergh time to knock out Contagion since shooting it. Worrying signs, both. But no scars of post-production panic are visible.
More crucially, Soderbergh bests earlier work with a non-actor (The Girlfriend Experience) by cleaving closely to Carano’s strengths: you’ll believe she can do more damage than Salt and Hanna combined.
Limey writer Lem Dobbs’ globe-trotting script is cavalier at best, crude at worst. But it doesn’t faff about, opening and closing with the same word and mincing few others in between.
After Kane escapes a takedown bid by fellow operative Aaron (Channing Tatum), her backstory gets info-dumped to hostage-to-tell-plot-to Scott (Michael Angarano). Any remaining tidbits are spilled at the end, where shady, well-cast supporting roles (oily Michael Douglas, beardy Antonio Banderas) click into cursory focus.
But Haywire isn’t about story or character. It’s about slick, muscular tag-team action chops. Kane was betrayed on a Barcelona extradition mission, but details are less important than Soderbergh’s jazzy montage of breathtaking efficiency, cut to David Holmes’s lithe score: clipped, clean, cool.
Point-man Ken (Ewan McGregor) set Kane up, but conspiracies are backgrounded to flaunt Carano’s physicality, multi-smackdowns peaking as she decimates Michael Fassbender and high-class hotel furnishings.
Sure, limitations linger. Carano has charisma but lacks range, rendering human intrigue involving her dad (Bill Paxton) and Tatum as dead weight. Arguably, Soderbergh’s tendency to deliver two films in quick succession still maxes momentum at the cost of emotion.
But pared-back purity of purpose is Haywire’s point – and it’s played with tough panache. By the time Kane reaches Ken, you’ll be too busy keeping up with the punches to fret over subtleties.
Hard, fast, brutal: Soderbergh’s sucker-punch return to action knows what it’s about. Not subtle or substantial, but it gets to work with flab-free focus. Beat that, Bourne 4.