Steven Soderbergh loves an ensemble cast. After proving that he can corral Hollywood A-listers in Contagion and Oceans 11 (and the diminishing returns of 12 and 13), he’s turned his attention to Haywire, a slick and surprising action flick with a cracking cast, which could well be the breakthrough performance for Mixed Martial Artist and former American Gladiator Gina Carano.
In one of the most hackneyed and familiar plots imaginable, Carano plays Mallory Kane, an elite undercover operative who works for a security company. When she’s double-crossed by her boss and former lover (an oily Ewan McGregor), she goes on a Kill Bill-style revenge mission against those who wronged her, racking up fights with Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum and Antonio Banderas along the way.
The story may be old hat but the cast is nothing short of sparkling. Part of the fun of Haywire is seeing an unknown tear into A-listers with aplomb. Appropriately, the fight scenes are fresh, brutal and believable. Refreshingly, Soderbergh actually holds the camera steady on most of the fights, so you can see what’s going on – there’s no Paul Greengrass-esque shaky cam here.
The soundtrack too is blissfully free of wailing techno or head-pounding heavy metal (not that there isn’t a place for that). Instead there’s a jazzy score which gives a classier art-house sensibility to every scene, even when Mallory is snapping limbs like so many breadsticks.
However, despite the different tack that Soderbergh has taken, a stellar cast and good eye for new talent, the depressing monotony of the script is still an underlying problem. No amount of A-listers being punched in the face can make up for the plodding and predictable script. With better writing Haywire could have been something really special. Instead it’s merely adequate.
Despite its shortcomings and its heavyweight supporting cast it’s Carano who turns out to be the unexpected gem. There’ll be no prizes for her acting but her blunt, no-nonsense delivery suits her character. A beautiful woman that can genuinely kick ass? Angelina Jolie had better watch her back.