While we all must certainly know by now that a stellar cast does not a stellar movie make (Year One (2009), Wanted (2008)*), I had higher hopes for Haywire (2011). And didn’t the trailers look like an adrenaline rush? Maybe I misremembered.
IMDb offers this synopsis for Haywire: “A black ops super soldier seeks payback after she is betrayed and set up during a mission.” And it really is that straight-forward. After being set up during an operation in Barcelona, the independent contractor specializing in black ops–Mallory Kane (Gina Carano)–nearly falls into a deadly trap. She now must find out who set her up and why so she can kick their ass.
The very simple plot is minced before being served. > I so badly want to spoil the film for you just to tell you how simple the story actually is! but I won’t < The film begins about three-quarters of the way in before flashing backward for context. To facilitate this maneuver, Kane is telling her hostage Scott (the youngish Michael Angarano) what happened to her. Not only a narrative device, he is also supposed to function as a witness if all goes awry. Strangely, he seems okay with this.
_____ Gina Carano is a career fighter. That her acting is secondary is no surprise. Chuck Norris comes to mind. Really, she isn’t awful, and I actually came away from the film with hopes to see her again after some coaching. Why? She really is just that bad-ass. Her hand-to-hand fighting and watching her run are the only real two reasons to see this film.
The fight scenes are startling. They’re stark and the soundtrack takes a pause to observe. Though most can be anticipated, they still feel sudden and the chase scenes are great (and interrupted by the bizarre). Bourne fans will dig these aspects to the film. What they will not dig is the choice of soundtrack. Have you seen the Ocean films: Ocean’s Eleven (2001), Ocean’s Twelve (2004)… Such is the soundtrack for Haywire, and unsurprisingly enough, they share the same “Music by” guy, David Holmes. I love the decision for the Ocean films because there is a kooky throw-back aspect and the films are comedic. Haywire might reminisce on early Bond or early action flicks (televised or otherwise), but what the hell were they thinking?! It was so distracting for me. Was I supposed to watch the film at that hysterical hour of two in the morning? Was Haywire created to compete with The Expendables or the A-Team? I could see the film as useful in making fun of the formulaic spy suspense-thriller, but I missed the humor somewhere along the way.
The other major fail for me was the plot. I guess I have gotten used to some surprising twist. I suppose I could cite Kane as the truly empowered female bad-ass as a surprising twist, but I was think more along the lines of a Salt (2010) twist, or Bourne revelation… As it was, every thing and one was laid bare. The reasons why were mundane. I do not care how many shots and angles Steven Soderbergh can squeeze into an action sequence, the film was painfully one-dimensional.
The third fail : As a key figure lay dying, we are given a brief flashback of an earlier scene. Said scene was initially awkward, but I thought maybe it was meant to aid in characterizing Kane. In the death scene, the flashback was to create a depth to a relationship the film had failed to portray by this point. They must have noticed the lack of chemistry or complexity Sean and I did so they popped that moment back in there, a slice of reverie which came across as more of a visual aid for handicapped viewers. I’m fairly sure I snorted with derision when during that scene.
Several of the actors in the film can emote like mad, but if we had developed a drinking game for any time an actor manufactured something other than an I-could-be-good-or-evil-at-any-moment-now-spy-face in this film, Sean and I would have been stone sober by the end. They could keep their secrets and make people guess, but I wasn’t interested in playing the paranoia game the way Haywire seemed to want to play it. The most steady source of tension I experienced was whether we should continue watching the film or not. There were some pretty shots, fun angles; nice color palettes, and I mentioned the choreography of the fight scenes, but it wasn’t enough to save the film. The only way I could recommend Haywire is if you don’t mind speed-watching a film (fast-forwarding for all the good parts) or like underwhelming action-suspense thrillers.
To affect an ending with a high note. I did like the parting shot of the film. It crooked one corner of my mouth.
*an amusing list “Great Cast, Bad Movie” by jwoehr at IMDb (with a few I must protest).
Director: Steven Soderbergh; Writer: Lem Dobbs; Produced by Gregory Jacobs & Ryan Kavanaugh; Cinematography, Peter Roberts; Music by David Holmes; Costumes by Shoshana Rubin; Starring: Gina Carano (Mallory Kane), Ewan McGregor (Kenneth), Michael Fassbender (Paul), Michael Douglas (Coblenz), Channing Tatum (Aaron), Antonio Banderas (Rodrigo), Bill Paxton (Mr. Kane), Michael Angarano (Scott) & Mathieu Kassovitz (Studer).
Rated R for some violence (no sexuality, nicely enough). Running time: 93 minutes.