Haywire Imperfect but a lot of Fun
By Kristin Battestella
Former Marine and private operative Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is on the run from her hit contractor boss Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) after a failed undercover mission with MI-6 agent Paul (Michael Fassbender) in which she was set up. As if the global chase and alluding of the local authorities wasn’t bad enough, Spanish contact Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas) and the mysterious G-man Coblenz (Michael Douglas) are also playing sides on the double-crossing spy and mercenary intrigue. Who has framed Mallory? Whom can she trust? As fellow team member and one time lover Aaron (Channing Tatum) pursues Mallory, she races to prove her innocence. Now, if only she could keep her dad John (Bill Paxton) from worrying about the takedown.
Director Steven Soderbergh’s (Erin Brocovich, Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven) recent idea to place Mixed Martial Arts star Gina Carano as the female lead in his action thriller was indeed a smart, unique, and worth a look move. Haywire opens equal to this premise with an intense bar fight and continues the intrigue and spy pacing. Slow motion and black and white uses do add an edge to the fighting setup, but perhaps they are also overused just a bit. We’ve seem so many others cleverly slice and dice towards a badass action scene, and thus the audience expects a certain amount of over the top explosions or nonsensical rah rah thrill a minute something to look at faire. By contrast, Haywire’s action sequences are played in full scope with little dialogue, only faint music, and mostly diegetic sounds. Yes, this fine, heavy, realistic approach will seem dry to those expectant viewers thanks to dialogue problems and a confusing, thin script muddling the action. While it may be part of the point to not know who is who or what side they are on- Who are we to trust? Who is checking up on whom and really doing the two-timing? - some people and events are just seriously unclear. Private contractors, freelancers, MI-6, corrupt governments- toss in a flashback timeframe and lux global locations and a viewer can get perplexed. It takes some figuring to realize the intercutting frame, and it can all seem tough to chew for a ninety minute yarn. We aren’t used to this type of highbrow action attempt, after all.
Fortunately, wit, humor, and sardonic stars keep Haywire entertaining. Despite having no acting experience, this is very much Gina Carano’s film. She’s sassy, badass, and yet classy, and Carano does very well as a believable woman who can deliver the lines and the ass kicking. This isn’t Pamela Anderson in Barbed Wire with an itty bitty corset and strategically placed bubble bath. Such an indulgent film has its purpose, sure; but the fact that Haywire doesn’t treat its heroine as such eye candy is refreshing. Mallory is most definitely capable of getting out of a screwed situation. Carano knows how to fight and no choreography cheats or tricks are taken onscreen. Yes, she’s sexy and attractive, but Mallory is a realistically fit and healthy woman molded more by her sarcasms, skill, and personality. In fact, the character herself directly objects to being used for looks and arm candy in a dress. And yet does such sense of classic, hip, spy style stop Mallory from doing what needs to be done? Nope. The audience knows Carano’s can still get beasty in this wardrobe, and it’s all the hotter that Mallory isn’t resorted to using feminine wiles. Although I’m not sure why they felt the need to alter Carano’s voice for the character in postproduction, it is very pleasing to see an actress who is really driving the car and doing a sweet job of it! The viewer can forgive Haywire’s flaws because Mallory is easy to root for and Carano doesn’t come across as used and abused stunt casting.
As much as some male audiences or empowered female viewers will tune in to Haywire for Carano, there’s plenty of man fun here, too. Ewan McGregor looks great as always, and he always looks different every time you see him. His Kenneth is a bit of a weasel, something we may find unexpected after McGregor’s heroic turns in the Star Wars prequels or his vintage heavies like Trainspotting. But Obi-Wan does the sleaze quite smashingly here. Kenneth is supposedly slick and operative cool, yet he can’t control Mallory or the double bait and switch operation. He’s desperate, hanging on by a spy thread, and ends up a little under served by the script. McGregor does his best with what ultimately becomes fairly light material, but Kenneth should have been more. Where is the one on one reflection and betrayal and complete history with Mallory? The beachside fight with Carano is well done, even if it feels rushed and ultimately kind of silly. He gets his foot stuck under a rock, really? McGregor and Michael Fassbender have one fun bar scene, but again, it’s not enough. And speaking of The Fass, his Paul appears too briefly about halfway thru Haywire. This MI-6 man has a hint of RP and looks totally Bondian, I must say. Bond, Bond, Bond, Bond, Bond! Paul has the badass equipment, swanky style, and most importantly, knows his own wicked and weaponry. Like his scene stealing turns in Inglourious Basterds and Prometheus, Fassbender’s handling of a cigarette, blowing the smoke, and taking a swig of whiskey makes the audience take notice. Paul’s every gesture and action is a crafty hint of something else in his espionage and subterfuge. I don’t think he’s here for more than a half hour, but Fassbender’s character is critical in Mallory’s set up and may be the most entertaining man in Haywire. The melee between Carano and Fassbender brings a rough, sexy energy to the picture, and it genuinely looks like his day of work hurt. New lady Fass fans might be disappointed at his smaller appearance here, but die-hard gals will enjoy his “All yours” toweled and shirtless moment. And I must say, it is nice to have men being as disposable and mishandled as the usual Bond Girl types!
Unlike Fassbender’s allure, unfortunately, I can’t say Haywire benefits from the non-existent, dry, spaced out charisma of Channing Tatum. I know everyone is giggly over his and Soderbergh’s Magic Mike right now (How quickly audiences forget the oh so wonderful The Full Monty!) but I see no appeal in anything in which I’ve seen him thus far. How has he not only lasted in Hollywood, but also gotten bigger? I’m totally miffed. Tatum should be Haywire’s second male lead after McGregor due to his early screen time. However, he’s just completely inferior to everyone else in the show. The script doesn’t give this Aaron character much, granted, but Tatum’s outplayed by Carano’s zest and sparkle every time he’s onscreen. He drags everything down when he’s enters stage left, and Haywire needs its players’ appeal to keep the picture afloat. It’s the Keanu of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. There’s no reason to care about Aaron one way or the other, and the make out scene with Carano feels totally forced, shoehorned, and useless. The clothed fight scene with Fassbender is much more entertaining.
They aren’t that bad, but Michael Douglas (The Streets of San Francisco, there’s an obscure reference for you!) and Antonio Banderas (must I?) are too brief for their full on cool. All they do is talk about what is supposed to happen or literally call each other on the phone to argue which is the boss and who’s doing the double talk and double crossing. It’s simply a real waste to have such stars essentially doing voiceovers. There’s room for intrigue, but the audience expects more intensity ala Traffic, some wheeling, dealing, and face-to-face confrontations. Who wouldn’t love to see Michael Douglas chew out Ewan McGregor for a bit longer than 30 seconds? Haywire might have better served its ensemble had there been a complete road movie or physical chase aspect beyond the death threat by smartphone ploys. Soul searching Mallory cutting from location to location with the crisscrossed pursuers just one step behind. Do these people actually ever meet? When we have antagonists who don’t even see each other, it can leave the battle feeling a tad hollow. Bill Paxton has more to do as Mallory’s dad, but I’m just not ready to see him in such sitting back, fatherly roles. Are we not still watching Aliens and Twister?
Fortunately, the scoring and action fit Haywire’s chic Bond design. The lighting, blue hues, over-saturated color, or soft candle light dresses the scenery as needed from location to location. It’s all moody, well lit, and crafty- even if it also feels kind of low end and cheap at the same time. We also don’t see much of those drive-by locations- just title cards saying where we are allegedly globe trotting. It’s smart, if obvious. We’re jet setting without actually having any jet setting really taking place- though the Irish locales and snow scenery are sweet fun when we do get them. Alas, I can’t say the same for those annoying blu-ray rental trailers. Although the features seem short in comparison to other special video releases- behind the scenes on Carano’s training and MMA history and spotlights on all the boys- there isn’t really any need for more. The menu design and interface is also disagreeable and painful. Just to get to the subtitles was a confusing accomplishment!
Not all audiences or standard action fans will like the highbrow trade off from the expected standard beef action, but Haywire is a step up from the nineties pinnacle of bad action we secretly love. Haywire wants to be upscale and thoughtful with Bourne edge or Lady Bond style. Sometimes it succeeds and other times it falls into Segal-esque trappings with under developed scripting and low budget, unfinished feelings. Is Haywire that bad or a film waste? Certainly not. Could it have been better? Yes. Thanks to all the big names involved, some viewers will simply see a lot of disappointment. As is, I’m not sure if there’s room for a Mallory Kane sequel but Carano deserves further film success. Haywire concludes with an easy, fun ending, and though imperfect, it’s an entertaining escape. Take it for what it is and enjoy the ride as things go Haywire.