Gina Carano could kick your ass. I don’t care who you are. This girl makes the boys from 300 look like a chorus line. She chokes Michael Fassbender with her thighs. She leaves Ewan McGregor to die under a rock. She even makes a Steven Soderbergh movie worth watching. You don’t need to suspend your disbelief when she launches into action. Unlike that string bean Angelina Jolie; Gina does all her own stunts. She’s a Mixed Martial Arts champion, from Dallas County, Texas. Her demeanour is soldierly, through and through. In Haywire, her mission is to beat the crap out of male movie stars. She does so with aplomb. As the tagline says, “They left her no choice.” This girl was born to get into fights.
Special Ops hottie Mallory Kane (Gina) is the sort of no-nonsense fist-thrower who always lands the last punch. She’s a former Marine who now works for a clandestine “contractor”. Her rat-fink boss (McGregor) is about as untrustworthy as it gets. On a mission to Dublin, Mallory is sold out by her employer and framed for murder. A rogue Irish assassin tries to rub her out in her hotel room. But Mallory being Mallory, it’s the Irish fella who winds up dead. After that, Mallory heads back to the States, with a plan to “debrief” her boss of his worthless life. All that stands between her and satisfaction are cops, killers and assorted bad guys. Our girl is only too happy to relieve these gentlemen of the air in their lungs.
And real fights are the main reason to see this film. There’s none of that fast-edit Three Card Monte in Haywire. When Gina wrestles with someone, the camera stays on her. She’s the Cyd Charisse of ass kicking. You need long takes to appreciate her art. Although real fights lack the fantastical stamina of fake combat, there is something to be said for authenticity. No-one lasts more than one round against Gina. As anyone who ever got clobbered in high school can attest: real fights happen fast. That’s the only similarity they have with fights in video games. There’s no slow motion camerawork in real life; no adrenalized soundtrack to gauge how well you’re doing. A good melee is over before you can call it a fight.
It’s just a pity Gina can’t give her director a kick in the ass while she’s at it. Of all the people working in Hollywood today, Steven Soderbergh is surely the guy most in need of a good slap. There has probably never been a director so prolific – or so patchy – in his output. You know it’s a Soderbergh film when all the good ideas go to waste. Does it look like it was shot quickly, by a guy who doesn’t really give a crap how it looks? Does it seem insincere – almost as a point of pride? Is there a nagging sense the film could have been made better by just about anybody? If you’re nodding wearily, it’s likely you’ve witnessed the Soderbergh effect. He’s undoubtedly smart, but his instincts are terrible. Haywire has a great premise, but it doesn’t set your pulse racing the way it should.
You keep waiting to get excited by this movie, but gradually, your expectations slump. It’s just another exercise in vain, meta-movie posturing, with nods to films you haven’t seen and a soundtrack that would work better in a cocktail lounge. This would be fine, if casting Gina Carano had been a mistake. But she’s magnificent. You have to imagine Die Hard being D-grade to understand my frustration. Imagine Bruce Willis being the consummate action hero, and Die Hard with no pace. Haywire is more a series of vignettes than a proper story. It’s made the way only Soderbergh could be happy with: like a riff on a theme he’s bored with, before he’s begun. Genre stuff brings out the clever-clever side of this director. The only thing more enervating than CGI, in a fight scene, is a failure to commit.
I’m not sure if a woman kicking ass is a feminist statement. A comment from a message board: “Gina, kill me, please” seems to sum up the masochistic appeal for men. To his credit, Soderbergh doesn’t go the Russ Meyer route and fetishize Gina’s brutality. At no point does Haywire resemble Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! This is more like the sort of movie David Mamet would make: a celebration of a warrior; not her chest. We’ve come a long way from the 60s. This isn’t the era of “foxy boxing” anymore. Although Haywire might not be the rousing triumph it ought to be, with Gina playing a literal knock-out; the movie still respects women. The problem is: the film is comatose. It lays there, as if struck by lightning…or Gina’s fist.