Movie Review: Haywire (2012)
“You like her?”
“I love her.”
That was Patricia on Gina Carano, a kickboxer and mixed martial artist from Dallas, Tex., playing Mallory Kane, a black ops specialist and soldier-for-hire in Steven Soderbergh’s indie-actioner “Haywire.”
Question: Has any leading lady, in one movie, kicked the ass of so many handsome leading men? Carano goes off on Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender and Ewan McGregor. Antonio Banderas is implied.
Further: Has any low-budget actioner had such an acclaimed director working with such a stellar cast? Too bad the results are mixed martial arts. We wind up with the slow pace, jumbled chronology, and general murkiness of an indie combined with the dull tropes of an actioner.
It begins well. Kane, sporting fetching scars on her beautiful face, crosses a winter road in upstate New York and into a roadside diner. She takes a back booth, orders tea, sips. Then she sees Aaron (Tatum) pull up. “Shit,” she says. He joins her, orders coffee, and the two talk in vague terms about him being on vacation, and Barcelona, and what went wrong there. Basically: she’s accused (of something), he’s there to bring her in, but she doesn’t want to go. So we get our first fight. Not only does she win but she takes a hostage, Scott (Michael Angarano). As they drive, she tells him her story, or backstory. We get to watch.
She’s a soldier-for-hire, working for Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), who is often contracted by State (Michael Douglas). She and her team, including Aaron, extract a Chinese journalist from Barcelona for Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas), who has a relationship with State. Or is he with State? It’s all rather murky. As it’s supposed to be.
The job goes well enough. She chases down one loose end because she doesn’t like loose ends, and because it gives us a good footchase through Las Ramblas, then beds Aaron and returns home. But Kenneth is there, too, with another assignment. Something about accompanying Paul (Michael Fassbender) on a job in... is it Dublin? It’s an easy gig. The job requires a power couple and Paul needs a better half. Despite her assets, she’s there for looks. “I don't even know how to play that,” she says. “I don't wear the dress. Make Paul wear the dress.”
But she acquiesces, shows up, gets suspicious. Why? Not sure. Maybe she’s always suspicious. She plays the tipsy wife but tracks Paul’s cell and discovers, under a bed in a stable near a swanky hotel, our Chinese journalist. Dead.
Then Paul tries to kill her. Then she’s on the run.
Some not-bad chase scenes. Chance and serendipity play a bigger role than usual. At one point, she winds up in a blind alley and waits to attack her pursuers (hapless garda), when the back door of a nearby restaurant opens, a bus boy with trash, and she bolts inside. At another point, as she and Scott, her upstate New York hostage, are in the midst of escaping the police, she runs into a deer, which is how she’s caught.
There are several showdowns. Basically she moves up the ladder of murky accountability. Paul gets it in Dublin, Kenneth in South America, and Rodrigo, the true mastermind, back in Spain. “Shit,” he says when he sees her. Which is how the movie ends. Using the word with which it began.
But what’s the unraveled story again? Someone wanted the Chinese journalist dead; Kenneth feared Mallory leaving his company and taking his clients with her. So two birds. The Chinaman gets it (making who happy?), and the crime can be blamed on Mallory. But, in the tradition of actioners, she fights back.
The dialogue from Lem Dobbs, who has worked with Soderbergh before (“Kafka” (1991) and “The Limey” (1999), is David-Mamet minimalist with a tendency toward smartness. “I like the idea of me doing my job,” Rodrigo says, “more than the idea of someone else doing my job.” Later in the movie, when talking motivations, Kenneth says, “It’s always about money.”
But there are loose ends and I don’t like loose ends. Why is Mallory telling Scott her story? Why does he seem to care about her? And why is the Chinese journalist killed in Dublin? Why not do it in Barcelona and take her out there as well? Why the necessity of bringing her along on a second mission to blame her for the first?
And why call it “Haywire”?
Miss Carano, whose voice was lowered post-production, is enough of a hit to get Patricia’s appreciation, but there are just too many misses. The movie’s first word is “Shit,” its last word is “Shit,” and there’s too much shit in between.