Long before her most challenging opponent became Disney’s HR department, Gina Carano was kicking some serious ass in the world of MMA while prominent filmmaker Steven Soderbergh was absent mindedly flicking through TV channels when he first became aware of her presence. It’s a classic Hollywood story of a director spotting someone by chance and then deciding to create an entire movie around her based solely on charisma and a blatant gift for ass-kickery, but instead of Haywire being the usual type of direct to streaming flick that features a new face on the action scene, Carano found herself sharing the screen with a different kind of heavyweight.
Heading up a movie that features Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas and Bill Paxton would be a daunting task for any actor, but could Carano bring the pain just as much with her acting as she can with a swift boot to the jaw?
Mallory Kane works for a super duper secret private intelligence firm that handles immensely shifty work so that the people who hire their services can maintain some of that sweet, sweet plausible deniability that governments tend to favour. However, thanks to an extremely violent encounter in a diner in upstate New York with an associate named Aaron, we realise that Mallory’s life may not exactly be running particularly smooth right now.
A handily lengthy flashback fills in the blanks as we find out that Mallory ex-boyfriend/boss (definitely a lesson to be learned there) gave her an assignment on behalf of a CIA agent named Coblenz to whisk out a Chinese national being held hostage in Barcelona. After liberating said national, Mallory and Aaron then deliver him and get on with their lives with the latter planning to quit, but boss Kenneth approaches her with yet another job to pose as the wife of a MI6 agent in Dublin.
Its here where things start to go impressively south as the job turns out to be a setup and Mallory, now framed for murder, realises she’s been burned more than overcooked toast.
On the run and fleeing both the authorities and Kenneth’s goons all the way back to America to that fateful meeting in the diner, Mallory has to figure out why Kenneth screwed her (phrasing) and who in the CIA can actually be trusted in order to clear her name. From there on in, it’s just a matter of using her fists to alter the bone structure of anyone foolish enough to get in her way and score herself a nice chunk of revenge to boot.
Part of the main thrill of Haywire is watching a virtual unknown beat the living shit out of an assorted bunch of Hollywood A-Listers in the kind of style you just can’t fake. Doing virtually all of her own stunts, be it popping Tatum’s arm in a submission hold to wrapping her iron thighs around Fassbender’s throat in a brutal chokehold, Carano adds a hard hitting air of physical authenticity to the film’s bone crunching smackdowns. It’s easy to see what enthralled Soderbergh so, but if we’re being brutally honest about the acting prowess of Haywire’s lead, there’s a that the actresses best moments are the ones that rely on her fists to do the talking. To give her her due, she muscles though admirably enough (shes certainly no way worse an actor than Van Damme or Segal when they started out – or even now, if I’m being honest) and she has some incredibly impressive backup in the form of a clutch of legendary thespians and Channing Tatum – oh calm down, I’m joking; old Magic Mike does good.
It’s legitimately fun to see such a starry cast aggressively playing second fiddle to a unknown actress who could literally smash their teeth out with a measured right hook for real if she wanted to and she built herself quite the career off the back of it, popping up in everything from Fast And Furious 6 to Deadpool and, of course, The Mandalorian.
Of course, just because his lead actress is doing all the heavy lifting, that doesn’t mean that the director of Ocean’s Eleven and Sex, Lies And Videotape is going to rest on his laurels and his jazzy style gives it an arthouse spin that sets it apart from your usual Jason Bourne clone. A climactic scrap on a beach visually resembles a similar brawl seen during the opening of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Soderbergh seems to be relishing staging foot chases and close quarters combat for a change instead of snappy banter and intricate plotting.
That’s not to say Haywire is dumb, far from it; also while some seeking less subtle, incendiary thrills may find its violent pleasures a little too intimate, but if there’s a real issue with Haywire is that the marketing makes it look like one of the million, cheap as chips, action duds that clutter the bargin basement DVD bin at your local petrol station. Even the title is horribly derivative and sounds more like something Van Damne would churn out during the early noughties in the midst of a coke haze rather than a slick, lean action film by the director of Erin Brockovich (Erin Sock-a-Bitch, anyone?).
However, those who take a chance on this experimental example of creative concussions and sinister spywork should be pleasantly surprised as a maverick director lends his hand to an unfamiliar genre thanks to a wrist snapping muse.