Haywire is an arty grindhouse flick — now there's an oxymoron — that would nicely fit on the bottom half of a double-feature bill. Too bad double features are extinct, and instead of costing a couple bucks at a drive-in theater we're asked to pay megaplex prices. Haywire isn't worth that.
It's directed by Steven Soderbergh, the hardest-working director in Hollywood, who should rein in his creative instincts a bit. Soderbergh enjoys dabbling in a variety of genres and budgets, veering from splashy crowd-pleasers to downright dull indie fare plus several disappointing hybrids in between. Haywire belongs in the latter category.
The plot is a flimsy excuse for mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carano to do what she does best — and it isn't acting. Carano plays Mallory Kane, a humorless freelance black ops specialist getting her paychecks from the CIA. Why they haven't hired this killing machine full-time is just another question Lem Dobbs' screenplay won't address. Instead she's framed by the agency for the murder of a hostage she rescued in Barcelona. Mallory was supposed to die easily as a result. Of course she doesn't.
The movie disguises its flimsy plot by skipping back and forth in time and among continents. Big stars like Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender and Antonio Banderas pop in and out with worries that Mallory is getting wise to their scheme, and a few feel her considerable wrath. The fight scenes in Haywire are terrifically bone-jarring, with Carano handling more stunts than male action stars typically do.
There's a flip side to that excitement, though. Several viewers at an advance screening departed after Carano's second brawl, turned off by the sight of a woman being savagely (if artificially) beaten and thrown around by a man. Haywire may be considered an example of female empowerment because Mallory always wins. But it's also a bit sickening to watch any woman so brutally assaulted.
Soderbergh doesn't always match his pacing to Mallory's fury. Too much time is spent with Mallory being chased — if brisk walking counts — through streets and atop buildings. Keeping up with the details of the CIA scheme until the film's finale proves confounding, then underwhelming. Vagueness prepares us for a stunning revelation that never comes.
Or perhaps it's there but Carano doesn't possess the acting chops to convey it. Anything more than expert butt-whipping is too much to ask of the Danica Patrick of mixed martial arts.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.