Directed by: Steven Soderbergh || Produced by: Gregory Jacobs
Screenplay by: Lem Dobbs || Starring: Gina Carano, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas
Music by: David Holmes || Cinematography by: Steven Soderbergh || Edited by: Steven Soderbergh || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 93 minutes
There seems to be a general consensus among film-fans that former athletes don’t make for good actors. This assumption is usually correct. “Actors” such as Michael Jordan (e.g. Space Jam ), Randy Couture (e.g. The Expendables ), and various former ESPN-personalities who first broke into the mainstream via professional athletics tend to lack the theatrical and dramatic arts background of likeminded musicians turned-actors or pro-wrestlers turned-actors (let’s face it, the WWE/RAW have more in common with theatre and dance than true athletic competition). Wrestlers like Dave Bautista in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and especially Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson have either enhanced or single-handedly saved entire movie-franchises on numerous occasions.
Still, some athletes throughout the years have demonstrated enough screen-presence to carry their own films; most notably Asian martial arts phenoms like Jet Li, Bruce Lee, Donnie Yen, and recently Iko Uwais have become household names in global cinematic action canon; at least for the time being, it looks like we can add Gina Carano to that list as a worthy blip on the box office radar.
Carano made a tear through the burgeoning women’s mixed martial arts (MMA) circuit as the industry’s first major star before being pummeled into retirement by renowned steroid-user Christiane “Cyborg” Justino back in 2009. After facing a year’s worth of career crossroads, Carano joined up with independent American auteur Steven Soderbergh (e.g. Sex, Lies, and Videotape , Erin Brockovich , Ocean’s Eleven , Magic Mike ) and produced Haywire, a modest but savvy and vicious little action-thriller.
Haywire is an altogether rather quaint but effectively made spy-story that works because its veteran director understands how to best use his first-time action-star and put her in a cinematic environment where she can succeed. Soderbergh brings the most out of Carano and thus his film by doing the following: (1.) He sticks to genre basics, minimizing dialogue and exposition and focusing on the action-scenes, which include anything and everything from hand-to-hand combat, shootouts, car-chases, to chases on foot. Even when there’s very little violence on-screen, Soderbergh almost always has Carano moving and doing something physically demonstrative that lets her portray her character visually.
2.) He makes the plot secondary with absolutely no apologies; Hawyire’s complicated story of black-ops, secret agents, and betrayals are vintage convoluted spy-narrative tropes; it’s not terribly interesting, but it’s not really meant to be; it keeps our attention on our star and paces the survival situations well.
3.) He surrounds Carano with a pretty star-studded cast, most of whom are outlier allies of or disposable enemies Carano pounds to a pulp with a few vulnerable situations here and there. Soderbergh must be able to corral anyone into acting for him if Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas, and Bill Paxton were all totally OK with playing second fiddle to a first-time actress. They should be, because…
4.) Soderbergh lets Carano do her thing. While he builds a smart, sexy movie around his sexy heroine, Carano brings to the action-movie table something that the likes of more “typical” dramatic actresses like Zoe Saldana, Scarlett Johansson, Angelina Jolie, and most certainly Gal Gadot lack in spades: Professional martial arts experience and actual action-star physicality. Unlike most Hollywood actresses who look like they wouldn’t feel comfortable breaking a nail outside a film production studio and typically weigh 100-125 lbs. on a good day, Carano is a solid, 145 lbs. of ass-kicking muscle that contributes considerably to her on-screen presence.
Carano easily maintains her sensual femininity and an almost catlike charm throughout, yet she remains one of the few action-heroines in cinematic history who actually look (both standing and in motion) like she could kick most anybody’s ass. She’s a full-fledged female action-star who is actually convincing and looks the part. I maintain my stance that Gina Carano would’ve made a much better Wonder Woman for the upcoming Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (Q1, 2016) than the robotic and spindly built Gadot, but that’s just me.
Then again, Zack Snyder probably isn’t an “actor’s director” the way Soderbergh is, so who knows?
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Soderbergh brings his A-game visual style to a perceived B-movie genre, crafting a smartly paced but otherwise unimportant story around a much more interesting cast of characters. The spy-thriller soundtrack is groovy. Carano leads that cast of much more experienced actors with visceral grappling and standup skills, combined with a subdued yet smart-aleck demeanor. She plays well in Soderbergh’s fun action-setpieces and physical gags. Even a walk down a London street is oodles of fun.
— However… nobody’s character is memorable; the story, while secondary to the performances and the action, is still confusing, and the final action sequences are a bit underwhelming compared to the first few ones.
? I leave you with the words of one Roger Ebert: There must be Freudian insights explaining why so many young males respond positively to superwomen as heroines. At science fiction and comics conventions, a woman wearing a fetishistic superhero costume will almost certainly be the focus of a circle of intent fanboys. Maybe there’s the prospect of an all-protecting mom. Or the promise of a cool female buddy. The possibility of sex seems to be secondary.