“Haywire” is a film about a women’s MMA champion who beats the skittles out of men twice her size for an hour and a half. That’s all you need to know going in, and it’s all you will know coming out. The film marks the first lead for MMA virtuoso Gina Carano, and it is the type of action film with no loftier aspirations beyond making its star look like the toughest living thing this side of Chuck Norris.
On that note, it’s a success, but the film as a whole is strictly in the 50th percentile – it won’t change the way you look at action films, but it won’t waste your time, either. The only details the audience knows or cares about is that Gina Carano is alternately running away from or beating up the people who want her dead. If you haven’t thrown up your hands and accepted that basic fact by the halfway point, there’s no point in seeing this thing through!
Gina Carano makes her debut as a lead in the film as assassin Mallory Kane, and she carries the film largely on her own shoulders fairly well for a first-time lead. She’s supported by an ensemble cast, though few of them are in more than a handful of scenes. Channing Tatum portrays Mallory’s fellow assassin Aaron, initially sent to hunt her down under the pretense that she is a rogue assassin before becoming her ally once again. Michael Fassbender portrays British MI6 agent Paul, and he displays his usual charm and ease at handling villainous honours, not to mention sharing what is easily the best fight in the film with Carano.
The rest of the major players in the film have roles of varying degrees of importance, though most only appear in a few scenes. Bill Paxton appears as Mallory’s father John, Ewan McGregor portrays her former commander and one-time boyfriend Kenneth, while Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas round out the cast as her superiors, Coblenz and Rodrigo respectively.
Secret Agent Mallory Kane is a woman on the run. She narrowly escapes an attempt on her life by her associate Aaron in a diner in upstate New York, but successfully fights him off before escaping with a young customer at the diner named Scott. Mallory gives Scott the details on her situation: One week earlier, she and her fellow agents were in a top secret firm under the leadership of her ex-boyfriend Kenneth, assigned to rescue Chinese businessman Jiang, being held hostage in Barcelona.
The operation goes off smoothly enough, and Mallory and her associates deliver the hostage to their contact Rodrigo. On her next assignment, Mallory is hired by a man named Studer to pose as the wife of British MI6 agent Paul at Russborough House. During the assignment, however, Mallory finds Jiang dead in a nearby barn house. Later that evening, Paul attacks Mallory, but she successfully defeats and kills him. She returns a missed call on Paul’s cell phone, with Kenneth answering to ask if Mallory had been “taken care of”. Realizing that she’s being set up, Mallory flees the hotel, evading the local law enforcement during her escape.
Once she returns to the United States, she makes her way to the diner where the initial confrontation with Aaron took place. As she finishes her story, Mallory and Scott encounter the police, but before they can be arrested, Kenneth’s men arrive and attack the group. Mallory and Scott manage to escape and eventually part ways when Mallory heads to her father’s home in New Mexico. She beats her former comrades to her father’s house, who arrive to interrogate John about his daughter’s location.
Aaron begins to suspect foul play after receiving a photo of Jiang’s corpse on his cell phone, but Kenneth shoots him and escapes, while Aaron dies after apologizing to Mallory. The following day, Mallory learns the location of Kenneth from CIA operative Coblenz, who contracted her team to rescue Jiang. After tracking Kenneth down on a beach and beating him into submission, Mallory learns the truth – Jiang was actually a journalist who was planning to expose the criminal activities of Studer. Kenneth engineered a plot for her to deliver Jiang to Studer via Rodrigo, and attempted to pin Jiang’s murder on Mallory. With his foot wedged between two rocks, Mallory leaves Kenneth to his fate and Rodrigo’s idyllic vacation in Majorca is cut short when Mallory suddenly appears behind him on his beachfront property.
This is a movie whose currency is fists, feet and chases, and it does exactly what it sets out to do. Gina Carano may not seem much of an actress, but she does elevate “Haywire” significantly above what it would have been without her. If you didn’t know going into the film that she was a world class women’s MMA champion, you’d probably assume as much after seeing the film. Save for one fight, she rarely takes a hit and walks all over her enemies with an ease more commonly attributed to Chun-Li. It’s not the quantum leap in martial arts filmmaking that “The Raid” was, but it’s generally solid for a freshman action flick from a first time leading lady.
That being said, it’s not without problems. Most of the film’s battles are relatively short and may leave the viewer wanting. The brawl between Carano and Fassbender is by far the most memorable of the film, and the only one which goes on for an extended period. The end fight on a beach between Carano and McGregor is an appropriately savage smackdown between two former lovers, but it is far too short to be give the film the kind of satisfying action beat that it requires, especially considering that the scenario it takes place in (a vacant beach with no one around to interfere) should allow the fight to go the distance. Still, the fight choreography, helmed by veteran stuntman J.J. “Loco” Perry, is consistently solid and impactful. The relatively short length of most of the fighting in the film may force viewers to weigh their preference of quality or quantity.
Outside of the action where the film is noticeably shaky. Replace Carano with a male lead, and it would be a pretty shameless Bourne-knockoff. The film makes absolutely no pretense about the fact that it’s a showcase for Carano, and in that regard, it might have been better suited for television, given the relatively small scale of the film, along with the borderline anti-climactic nature of the ending.
Still, for a first time effort from a women’s MMA champ/untested female action hero, “Haywire” isn’t bad. It’s less of a movie than it is a strongly made case for Carano to become the next Cynthia Rothrock, and it may very well be the reason why she was the first to be cast in the much-hyped female spinoff of “The Expendables”. If for no other reason than that, “Haywire” is worth seeing.
- The original title of the film was “Knockout”.
- Director Steven Soderbergh hit upon the idea of casting Carano in the film after witnessing one of her televised MMA fights, specifically her loss to Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino.
- The filmmakers lowered the sound of Carano’s voice for the final film.
Film Rating: 6/10
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