Daughter of Rambo: “Haywire”

March 21, 2012

You gotta love Steven Soderbergh, am I right? Yeah, sure maybe not all of his movies are winners, and maybe they don’t all hit your Q-zone, and, well, he did bring us Traffic (aka The War on Drugs for Dummies), which allowed upper-middle class white people to think they could speak authoritatively about drugs by serving up some reheated plotlines from old Miami Vice episodes. Oh, and he helped Julia Roberts win an Oscar for saying the word “tits.” But despite this, you have to respect the guy, because all he does is make movies!  He churns them out the way the Queen Alien cranks out slimey, Ripley-baiting alien eggs. The dude is a machine. And he doesn’t just make one kind of movie, oh no, he’ll make a movie about whatever catches his interest. So, of course he’d be the one to build a movie around retired mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carano. I’m sure he figured he better do it before someone else did it. And I’m glad he did.

So, Haywire…yeah, there’s not much to it, yet surprisingly much to unpack. The movie begins in crackerjack style, as she waits in a snowy, rustic diner in Upstate New York. She’s joined by an annoyed Channing Tatum (at least I think he’s annoyed…when you’re as wooden as he is it’s hard to tell). They exchange terse, cryptic sentences, talking around something between and not hiding their bitterness toward one another. Carano’s face is bruised, and Tatum looks like the sort who’d punch a chick in the face for, I dunno, forgetting to TiVo Swamp People. The scene emits a heavy domestic violence vibe.

Channing Tatum "acting."

But then Tatum smacks her in the face. And she proceeds to whale on him in the close confines of the diner.  It’s a great scene and a great fight—all heavy blows and grappling, ending, finally, when she snaps his arm like a tree branch (oh, Gina, where were you when I was watching G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra?), grabs a hostage and hijacks his car. From here the movie flashes back to what brought us to this point.

Carano plays Mallory, a human terminatrix who works for a private company contracted by the government to eliminate bad guys. You know, when they’re too cheap or lazy to send a drone. On a recent mission to free a kidnapped Chinese dissident being held in Barcelona, she met and worked with Tatum, and the two of them shared a roll in hay. Mallory doesn’t like a lot of thinking going on with her sex toys, I guess.

Anyway, her last mission found her in Dublin meeting up with another foreign contact played by Michael Fassbender. Long story short, everything went sideways, leaving Mallory on the run from both sides of the law. I don’t want to give away too much more, since this is a really cool movie, and you should see it for yourself. But you also have Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton, and Antonio Banderas in a Saddam Hussein beard. Michael Douglas shows up, but I guess cancer gets him a pass from having his ass handed to him.  Amid it all is Carano, mowing people down like a velociraptor. A sexy, sexy velociraptor.

Even sexier than the ones stalking Michael Buble.

Cool, but not great, I’ll admit. Unlike Soderbergh’s other “unstoppable avenger” thriller, The Limey, this film doesn’t really have a lot of humanism at its core. It’s not interested in exploring how violence can trap us in an inescapable cycle so much as, well, just watching Carano hurt people. But it’s pretty good at that.

Carano isn’t a great actress—even with her voice digitally lowered for this film (I’ve never heard it, but I understand she sounds more SoCal than she does here). She can’t really center a scene, so Soderbergh constructs a spare, minimalist film around her, which helps keep us focuse don her. There is little dynamism to his camerawork, and few music cues that stray from ‘70s-era cop-theme music. Even the gunshots and explosions seem muted (a bit the way they were in The American—another movie that built tension by downplaying its action scenes). With nothing to compete against, Carano can hold her own, and when she begins fighting, well, then everything around her vanishes.

Haywire’s fights are nice, brutal contests, with none of the elaborate choreography of most martial arts fight scenes in which every blow is thrown so it can be blocked and the fighters end up looking more dancers than people who want to beat the living crap out of one another. Haywire never makes fisticuffs look like anything other than an exhausting, violent contest that only ends when one party can’t move anymore. It’s also one of the few movies to make fights look exhausting.

Plus Carano, like, chokes one dude out with her thighs. I have to believe that in those circumstances you’d think, Huh. So, this is how it’s going to end. Could be worse…

...much, much worse.

Critics haven’t really know what to make of Haywire, or Soderbergh’s motives for making it. Is it supposed to be one of his crowd-pleasers akin to the Oceans movies? Or is it one of his “fuck it, let;’s try that” experiments like Bubble? I tend to come down on the latter. I think, with Haywire, Soderbergh has made his answer to all those crappy ‘80s action movies made after Stallone and Schwarzenegger took off. You know the ones designed as a vehicle for any oiled-up slab of beefcake (Lundgren, Jeff Speakman, Brian Bosworth, etc.) Only with Carano, Soderbergh realized he had the real deal. I mean, this chick could probably drop most of the cast of The Expendables without breaking a sweat.

So, there you go. Haywire. It’s cool. Worth a rent, anyway.

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