A hot contract killer shoots, punches, and kicks her way halfway around the world to figure out why her employer set her up to be murdered. It may not sound like the most original plot ever, but it’s still worth watching.
Our story begins with a somewhat suspicious-acting Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) slipping into a roadside diner. When a tired and hung-over Aaron (Channing Tatum) shows up to “bring her in,” we’ve barely got time to figure out their relationship before the two of them are brutally beating the crap out of each other. Mallory breaks Aaron’s arm and beats him unconscious before she gets away with the help of a good Samaritan (Michael Angarano). And that’s when Mallory starts to explain to him -- and us -- what the hell just happened back there and why.
Mallory, it turns out, is a freelance operative who handles off-the-books assignments through her manager/handler/former boyfriend, Kenneth (Ewan MacGregor). Despite a grueling run of back-to-back assignments, including rescuing a Chinese journalist in Barcelona, Kenneth convinces her to do one more easy assignment in Ireland with an MI-6 contact (Michael Fassbender) he’s trying to score points with. And despite the bad vibes, it really is a pretty simple job...until Mallory discovers her journalist executed in the garage and Paul (Fassbender) tries to murder her back at their hotel room, with lots of police backup. Oddly enough, Mallory takes offense to this course of action and decides to find out who’s set her up and why.
If this sounds like a standard action/revenge thriller to you, well... that’s because it kind of is. There’s nothing in Haywire that’s going to rewrite the way action movies are made or make your head spin from a twist you never saw coming. But it does have a couple interesting things going for it.
First off, unlike most of these films, there’s no act-two reveal where we find out why everyone turned on Mallory, framed her, and what she’ll need to do to clear her name. She gets a rough sense of where the trail starts, but for the most part she and the audience are left in the dark for most of the film as she fights her way across Europe and America. This feels a little more believable, that an agent who’s been cut off with no resources would be...well, cut off. It’s not until the end of the film that we finally get a sense of the motivation behind Mallory getting burned.
Second is the action. There’s a lot of it and it’s good. Carano was the first female mixed martial artist, and as such she doesn’t need a stuntwoman to film her fight scenes for her. She’s tough and hard and more than believable as a woman who’s beating the crap out of every assassin that’s being sent after her. Since the camera never has to cut to an odd angle or overly wide shot to hide the people fighting -- and director Steven Soderbergh never feels the need to amplify the scenes with sharp sound effects or music -- there’s a brutality to this film that you don’t really see in action movies. It might not be as fast or pretty as some wirework fight scenes, but you never doubt for a second that people are getting pummeled here.
But, like I said, in the end Haywire is really just another action/revenge thriller. It’s got a few nice tweaks that keep it from falling to the back of that pack, but nothing that makes it leap to the front, either. We never get to know Mallory well enough to sympathize with her past knowing “people are trying to kill her.” The downside of saving all that explanation for the end is that it almost becomes an epilogue -- the story’s over just as we finally understand why this all happened.
I really want to give Haywire four stars, but while it’s an entertaining , well-made film that does a lot of things, it never feels like it does quite enough. As I said, many of the action-movie tropes have been pared away to let the raw action shine through, but this also leaves the film feeling a bit thin at points. It’s never anorexic, but it does give you the sense there should’ve just been a little more to it somewhere.
This is a pretty bare-bones disc, so if special features tend to swing the vote for you...well, I can tell you now which way you’ll be going. There’s a 15-minute feature called “Gina Carano in Training” which has a simple interview with the fighter-actress talking about how Soderbergh contacted her to be in the film, and how she trained with armorers and stuntmen to prepare for her first film. There’s also some assembled footage where the director talks about seeing her first MMA fight (also included in the feature -- all 38 seconds of it) and deciding to build a movie around this woman. The other feature, “The Men of Haywire,” is composed of quick snippets of the otherwise all-male cast talking about working with Soderbergh and Carano. Oh, and there’s a bunch of Lionsgate trailers if you like watching those.