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Review: “Haywire”, Starring Gina Carano

I attended an advance screening of “Haywire” tonight, which stars Gina Carano. This is relevant to our collective interests because, hey, it’s Gina Carano. You remember her, don’t you? She was labeled “The Face of Female Mixed Martial Arts”, and together with Cris “Cyborg” Santos, was the more hormonally-balanced half of the biggest female MMA bout in history. So how was Haywire? Let’s just say that when director Steven Soderbergh is on, he can make a fantastic film. Also, Carano can’t act.

The story concept isn’t a new one – a “secret agent” gets betrayed in the field, goes on the run, and tracks down those who ganked her – but there are flourishes of the modern world in there. Carano’s character, “Mallory Kane”, isn’t so much a secret agent as she’s a private contractor (and ex-Marine), and the “betrayal” hinges not on shifting international ideologies but on money and government contracts. Aside from one fisticuff on a beach, the fight scenes are exciting and believable, a mix of Jason Bourne and Anderson Silva that doesn’t stretch reality too much. Carano’s co-stars, which include Channing Tatum, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender and Bill Paxton, all turn in palatable performances. And Soderbergh infuses the flick with the same stylized storytelling (read: use of score and scene dissection) that made his other films, such as “The Limey”, “Traffic” and “Ocean’s Eleven”, so entertaining. But whenever Carano speaks… damn. Just damn.

Which isn’t to say she’s like Sophia Coppola in “The Godfather Part 3” – she doesn’t sink Haywire, she’s simply the reason it takes on a bit of water towards the end. Yes, we get that she’s supposed to be a badass, capable of taking a hard beating before eventually slipping on an armbar or triangle choke (and following that up with a close-range gunshot wound to the face). Yes, she’s a fast thinker, and calm, cool and collected under fire. All that was believable. What was not, however, was her simmering anger and the appurtenant one-liners. The Carano we know grins sheepishly after winning via TKO in the cage; she does not stare into the camera and convey cold hate. Sorry, not happening.

While Haywire falls short of “Warrior” in terms of where it rests on the MMA-related movie ratings scale (note: Warrior was a solid film), it’s by no means the next “Never Back Down” (note: note a good film) or “The Expendables 2: Electric Bugaloo”. It’s just that, with Soderbergh behind it, and the stellar list of co-stars it sports, I expected more. I was hoping for a female Jason Bourne-esque character, kicking ass and conveying emotion in such a way that the audience doesn’t laugh at the attempt at drama. Instead, I got Carano glaring out at the dusky landscape, muttering “You better run” to a nemesis she can’t see and eliciting a cackle from the dude sitting beside me.

Check out Haywire for yourself. Just don’t expect Carano to blow you away.

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