Steven Soderbergh has a knack for finding talent in unlikely places. In casting The Girlfriend Experience, he looked to porn and found the appealing Sasha Grey. Now, with the action thriller Haywire, he has looked to mixed-martial-arts fighting and come up with Gina Carano, a glowering fighter who is a lovely, lively presence.
I only wish Soderbergh and screenwriter Lem Dobbs had developed a more memorable vehicle for her. Haywire is stylish and fun, but the plot about globetrotting operatives is hard to follow, and the film dawdles between action sequences.
True, the fights are dazzling. As he did with Contagion and the Ocean's Eleven films, Soderbergh has assembled a large cast of name actors, and one of Haywire's pleasures is watching Carano pummel familiar leading men like Ewan McGregor and Michael Fassbender. She runs up walls, leaps from rooftops, delivers devastating roundhouse kicks and comes back swinging even after being thrown at a flat-screen television.
But I can't keep everyone straight, and I'm not sure I will be rewarded if I go through my notes and piece the story together. The film hints at big themes - Chinese dissidents, a cynical American government - but it's never precisely clear what's at stake.
Still, Gina Carano. I'm grateful Soderbergh has brought her to the screen. I can't think of many film characters like her Mallory: pretty and funny, ruthless and brutal. She's the kind of gal who breaks a man's arm and then, behind the wheel of a car moments later, thoughtfully suggests that a passenger fasten his seatbelt.
As the film begins, she is quietly drinking tea at an upstate New York diner. Then the wrong guy (Channing Tatum) shows up. A furious brawl erupts, and Mallory commandeers a car and its alarmed owner (Michael Angarano). A series of flashbacks follows, as she tells him of her work as a secret government contractor who, at the bidding of her boss (McGregor), rescues a hostage in Barcelona and attends a swanky party in Dublin. Later, Mallory negotiates with a U.S. government official (Michael Douglas) and fights off thugs at the elegant New Mexico home of her father (Bill Paxton).
There's much more in this short film (just 93 minutes), including climactic scenes that explain the key conspiracy far too quickly. It's true that action films can get by just fine with inexplicable plots. The Fast and the Furious movies make little sense, but if I watch them with low expectations, I enjoy myself. The thing is, I never watch a Soderbergh film with low expectations.