With Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas. Written by Lem Dobbs. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Rated R (for some violence). 93 minutes.
Steven Soderbergh is one of our most eclectic directors, moving easily from obscure arthouse movies to star-packed romps to serious mainstream dramas. HAYWIRE has an impressive cast and a lot of action, but for some viewers it may seem like he’s in arthouse mode. It is a violent thriller about a betrayed spy where the details of the mission and the motivations of the character are never quite clear. Not quite as obscure as “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” it will still frustrate those who want to know they why of the story.
It’s essentially a vehicle for martial arts star Gina Carano, who is surrounded by a cast that includes Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton, Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum and Michael Fassbender. It opens at a roadside café where Mallory (Carano) is awaiting the arrival of a contact and is surprised by Aaron (Tatum), with whom she had worked on a recent mission. When she refuses to go with him, he starts to beat her up. It will not be the last time some guy pummels her, nor the last time her opponents pays the price for making this mistake.
Since this is a shaggy dog story, the details of the plot don’t matter much. Kenneth (McGregor) handles jobs for government spy agencies they can’t or don’t want to do themselves. Mallory, apparently an ex-lover, works for him. As she relates in flashback to the hapless guy who helps her escape (Michael Angarano) she was involved in a mission that went wrong. In fact, she learns she’s been set up and betrayed. Now she’s trying to get to the people who sold her out and set things right.
If you want to know why all this is going on, about the only explanation you’ll get is her line as to why she chased down someone who was no longer threatening their mission: “I hate loose ends.” What the movie is really about is watching Carano strut her stuff, mopping the floor with Mssrs. Tatum, Fassbender and McGregor. This is clearly a woman you don’t want getting angry at you.
As the action jumps between the U.S., Spain and Ireland, there are chases and shootouts, but not much in the way of characterization. There’s not even a romantic subplot, as Mallory objects to any notion that she’s “eye candy.” She may look nice in a party dress, but that won’t get in the way of her beating the living daylights out of anyone who comes after her.
At 93 minutes, “Haywire” is a compact thriller with more star power than the script requires and lots of action. After such recent movies as “Contagion,” “The Informant!” and the epic “Che,” it’s clear that Soderbergh wanted to kick back with a popcorn movie. It’s a very slick and stylish popcorn movie, no doubt, but in this case you’d be better off checking your brain at the door.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.