In the old days a film like this would have been called a “programmer” and fulfilled its modest ambitions as the second feature on a double bill. Alas, we don’t have double features or programmers anymore; every movie carries weight, and expectations, with it. Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire has all the trappings of an “A” movie, including a big-name cast and impressive international locations, but it never rises above the level of a “B.”
The action yarn was built around mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carano, who looks great, handles dialogue well, and knows how to kick butt. The fight scenes are potent and well staged; it isn’t every day you see a beautiful leading lady being smashed into walls and pieces of furniture by one of her leading men. What makes this tolerable is that she gives as good as she gets.
There are some good chase scenes, too, in the streets of Barcelona and on the rooftops of Dublin.
But the movie as a whole never takes off, and those action scenes aren’t enough to sustain it. Lem Dobbs’ screenplay is a fairly standard-issue espionage tale in which everyone is double-crossing everyone else…but Carano isn’t about to become anyone’s victim.
I felt the air go out of the film at a specific point, when Carano and Michael Fassbender, who are posing as husband and wife, return from an eventful party and walk down a long corridor to their hotel room. The scene is played in silence, as we wait for what might happen once they get inside that room. But there is no electricity in the air, no buildup of tension. I couldn’t help thinking that Hitchcock would have had us on the edge of our seats at a moment like that. Soderbergh is not only a good director, but a savvy student of film; I wish he’d found an appropriate role model for that crucial scene.
Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton, and Michael Douglas all turn in professional jobs, and Carano shows real promise as an action star-in-the-making. The film is slickly made, and will probably please undemanding audiences. But with all that talent on both sides of the camera, Haywire should have been better.