I’m going to try to be an adult as I write this review, but OH, MY GOD, YOU GUYS, HAYWIRE IS SO MUCH BUTT-KICKING FUN.
It stars real-life mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carano and, holy elbow strikes, is she awesome. You will learn the sound an audience collectively makes for “good lord, that woman can kick hard!”
Carano plays Mallory Kane, a sort of privately contracted secret agent. She’s the best at what she does, which you will believe immediately, and she’s been betrayed and has to think and fight her way out, which is all you need to know about the plot. It gets explained along the way through a highly enjoyable framing device, and it’s really more fun if you just let yourself get sucked in and figure things out while Mallory does.
The cast also features Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender and Michael Douglas. Sound like an oddly high-prestige cast for an action movie? Well, this is no ordinary action movie. It’s directed by Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh and written by Lem Dobbs (Dark City, The Limey) and both take on their tasks with a playful sense of humor and some real smarts. Some of the standard action movie tropes are deliberately tweaked or undermined, and Haywire features moments of what I can only describe as witty violence. Several of the fight scenes inspired laughter and applause at the screening I went to.
Soderbergh is no stranger to spy and heist movies, and he knows how to ratchet up the tension. There’s a scene in which Mallory is walking down a street knowing someone out there is after her, but not who, and suddenly every sound and movement on the screen seems threatening. It’s a great way of showing how alive her senses need to be.
Ewan McGregor is delightfully weaselly and Antonio Banderas is willing to look bad – very bad – but really the movie is all about Carano. The movie doesn’t require her to have a huge range of acting chops, but she’s got good screen presence. The movie opens on her smoldering, intense stare, and just watching her chase someone down is kind of great. She’s totally believable as someone who can beat up (or choke out) guys who are 50 pounds heavier than she is. I kind of want to be her when I grow up.
I freely admit to enjoying movies in which people fight and stuff blows up a little more than I should. Thus, as a control group, I brought my friend Carolyn, partly because she is fun and partly because she is not a particular fan of action movies – Carolyn was stressed out by the previews of other action movies before Haywire started. (Warning: Because of Haywire’s buttkick-heavy content, you will get the Previews for Dumber Audiences. Stay strong and keep your head held high.) Carolyn admitted that it took her a little while to get into it, but said she had thoroughly enjoyed the movie by the time it was over.
And then I choked her out.
You are not going to come to new understandings about life and the human spirit during Haywire, nor will you have a cathartic emotional release that, through tragedy and triumph, brings you closer to your own inner light.
But you will get to watch Gina Carano kick total ass for an hour and a half. And that is no bad thing.