'Haywire' Review: Mixed Martial-Arts Star Carano TKO'd by Soggy Spy Story

Gina Carano might just be the next female action superstar, but it won’t be thanks to “Haywire.”

The new film shows Carana easily translating her MMA fighting chops to the big screen, and all that scrapping clearly didn’t mar her lovely features. But director Steven Soderbergh can’t leverage Carano’s unique screen presence, nor a cast far too good for such a rote spy caper.

Gina Carano Haywire

“Haywire” marks Soderbergh’s second consecutive genre outing, and it’s clear he’s ill-suited for pulp. Last year’s “Contagion” couldn’t rouse our senses despite the fictional death of millions. Now, with “Haywire,” the soon-to-retire auteur wastes the debut of an electric lead.

Carano stars as Mallory, a private government contractor who takes assignments nations don’t want to claim as their own. The film’s electric opening finds her squaring off with a fellow agent (Channing Tatum, looking suitably hung over) in a diner and fleeing the scene in a stranger’s sports car.

It’s a grand introduction to Carano, who survives a splash of steaming coffee to the face and keeps on kicking.

We then learn why the diner dustup took place, a not so subtle reminder than too many films today feel the need to use flashbacks to tell their tales. Mallory and Tatum’s character previously teamed up to protect a Chinese dissident, but when Mallory takes a new assignment pairing her with an Irish agent (Michael Fassbender), nothing goes according to plan.

She’s been double crossed, and she isn’t sure if the man responsible is her U.S. liaison (Michael Douglas), her assigning agent (Ewan McGregor) or the slick client (Antonio Banderas) who set up the dissident plot. Or perhaps someone else shares the blame for her betrayal?

“Haywire” can’t make us sweat over the details of the plan, nor do we get to know Mallory beyond her stunning physical tools. She’s a dynamo, no doubt, but every time the film reaches for a character-defining moment, the story withdraws and denies us that simple pleasure.

Carano is no Olivier, or even Lundgren, for that matter. She’s still a bit stiff delivering her lines, but by action star standards she’s no embarrassment. And any quibbles vanish when Mallory starts throwing her fists and feet. She’s a dynamo, and Soderbergh wisely shoots her with a very still camera so we don’t miss a punch. Fellow female action stars like Angelina Jolie rarely look capable of their physical stunts. Not only does Carano bring a fierce physicality to her role – she’s got curves, and muscle – the film’s stunt coordinator makes her use gravity to her advantage.

When Mallory strikes, she’ll use a nearby wall or table to pounce from on high. That’s the kind of brainy action sequences too rarely considered in films today. But we’re forced to wait … and wait … for those visceral actions scenes. Bravo to Soderbergh for attempting to accumulate tension along the way, but it simply doesn’t materialize as planned.

“Haywire” defines fast forward theater. You’ll wish you could zap the slower moments just to get to Carano’s next display of brute force.