Film Review: Haywire

Nifty spy actioner featuring impressive big-screen newcomer and martial-arts expert Gina Carano as a high-level, high-kickin’ intel operative for hire but not to mess with.

Top-name Women’s Mixed Martial Arts competitor Gina Carano makes a terrific film debut in Steven Soderbergh’s entertaining Haywire, a fast-paced, keep-’em-guessing contemporary tale of vying intelligence operatives more on the side of winning and uncovering than on the “right” side of any political canvas (e.g., Killer Elite, Tinker Tailor, etc.). Lem Dobbs’ (The Limey) script provides an excellent game board for the fast and unexpected zigzag moves that never disorient and, most importantly, satisfy when game’s up.

Also noteworthy are all-around fine performances, especially from such dependables as Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas and Bill Paxton.

First encountered is the formidable Mallory Kane (Carano), slinking into a homey, remote upstate New York diner awaiting a meeting. But it’s her ex, Aaron (Tatum), who shows up rather than her expected contact. Maybe not up to any good, he doesn’t stand a chance as Mallory, using her martial-arts skills, a gun and gumption, neutralizes him (as she does to a number of other male no-goodniks along the way).

Leaving diner patrons stunned and maybe Aaron dead, Mallory escapes by way of stunned innocent bystander Scott’s (Michael Angarano) car. With a terrified but obedient Scott nervous in the passenger seat and a determined Mallory at the wheel, she shares with Scott the events that put her unwillingly into this driver’s seat.

Flashbacks establish Mallory as a much-sought-after contract worker for U.S. intelligence (her diner triumph providing graphic evidence of her skills). Her backstory begins when government spy honcho Alex Coblenz (Douglas) insists that Kenneth (McGregor), Mallory’s boss at the contract company, assign her to the task of rescuing a Chinese journalist held captive in Barcelona. Rodrigo (Banderas), working on the U.S. intelligence side (well, maybe), will help in this operation. Mallory again whacks, smacks and kicks her way to victory.

Kenneth next sends her on an MI6 assignment to Dublin to pose with Paul (Fassbender) as an upper-class couple and spy on filthy-rich French bad boy Studer (French actor/director Mathieu Kassovitz) at his elegant London estate party.

Well, things get messy when Mallory discovers that the Chinese hostage she thought was alive has been murdered on the estate. Worse is the betrayal she encounters back at her and Paul’s posh Shelbourne Hotel suite. Now on the run from the police, she escapes to the U.S. by way of Canada to take refuge with her novelist dad (Bill Paxton), who lives comfortably at his gorgeous modernist home in the New Mexico hills.

Besides a tight narrative, Haywire offers nail-biting fights and chases, clever twists, and a Carano who impresses with both her martial-arts skills and edge recalling Ellen Barkin and more recent dragon-tattooed ladies at their menacing best. And there’s nothing like a little revenge to add spice to a plot.